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Cowardly driver who fled Hackney hit-and-run that killed mum-of-two jailed for 11 years

Gao Gao 'made an enormously positive contribution to society', said the judge (Gao Gao's family)
Gao Gao 'made an enormously positive contribution to society', said the judge (Gao Gao's family)

A dangerous driver who killed a young mother of two in a shocking hit-and-run collision as she cycled home has been given an 11 year prison sentence.

Martin Reilly, 29, who has multiple previous convictions and was driving an uninsured car and was on police bail, careered head-first into Gao Gao on Whiston Road, Hackney, on September 21 last year.

He was on the wrong side of the road as he lost control of the car, which he was driving at almost 50mph in a 20mph residential street in wet conditions.

Gao Gao, a 36-year-old “extraordinary and dedicated” mother of two and “brilliant” professional fundraiser raising millions for research into dementia, suffered extensive multiple traumatic injuries. She died early the following morning in the Royal London hospital.

Judge Caroline English, sitting at Snaresbrook Crown Court, sentenced Reilly on Thursday to 11 years and three months after he had previously pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving.

She said two-thirds of the sentence - seven and a half years - would have to be served in prison and the remainder on licence, meaning Reilly is at risk of returning to jail if he reoffends.

Judge English said: “This offence is quite obviously so serious that nothing other than an immediate and substantial custodial sentence can be justified.”

A ghost bike in memory of Gao Gao in Whiston Road (Hackney Cycling Campaign)
A ghost bike in memory of Gao Gao in Whiston Road (Hackney Cycling Campaign)

Reilly was also banned from driving for 210 months – more than 17 years.

At a hearing last month, Gao Gao’s widower Luke Walker told how their one-year-old daughter still went to the front door to plead for her “mama” to come home.

The couple’s four-year-old son was said to be too frightened to continue cycling to school and had asked his father to stop cycling in case he too was killed.

Daniel Murray, defending, told the court on Thursday, prior to sentencing, that Reilly felt great remorse at causing Gao Gao’s death.

Mr Murray said: “He didn’t set out that day to hurt anyone.

“He has also written a letter expressing his deep sorrow and shame for what has happened.”

Martin Reilly will serve seven-and-a-half years of his sentence in prison (Met police)
Martin Reilly will serve seven-and-a-half years of his sentence in prison (Met police)

Reilly’s family had laid flowers at the scene of the collision, the court was told. Whiston Road is a notorious “rat run” for speeding motorists on the north side of Haggerston Park.

But Mr Murray admitted that any mitigation for causing Gao Gao’s death “may well ring hollow in the ears of some of those listening in court”.

The mother and sister of Gao Gao, a Chinese British national, and a number of friends were in court to hear the sentencing.

The judge had to reconvene the court after mistakenly saying initially that Reilly would only serve half his sentence in prison. She later changed that to two-thirds.

In her summing up, Judge English said: “There is nothing I can say, and no sentence that I can pass, that can possible assuage the enormous impact and grief felt by the family, loved ones and colleagues of Gao Gao.”

She said the death of Gao Gao was “nothing less than a personal tragedy” and a “terrible loss” to her family. “Gao Gao is lost to them forever,” she said.

She said: “It’s clear from everything that I have heard and read that Gao Gao was a much-loved and highly respected wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and colleague.

“It’s clear that Gao Gao was a highly intelligent, industrious, talented individual. She made an enormously positive contribution to society.”

Addressing Reilly as he sat with his head bowed in the dock, she said: “Tragically it was a life that was cut short on September 21, 2023, as a result of your actions, Martin Reilly.”

She told Reilly, whose use of a false address had undoubtedly invalidated his seven-day driving insurance policy, that he “had no business being on the road in the first place”.

She said CCTV evidence showed he had driven in a “persistently dangerous manner” immediately prior to the crash, and at speeds more than double the legal limit and that were “wholly inappropriate” to the weather conditions and residential roads.

She said his driving prior to the crash involved a “number of aggressive, highly perilous, wholly illegal manoeuvres” that included a near miss with a moped rider.

Referring to Reilly’s numerous prior driving convictions, the judge said the collision was a “tragic escalation of a pattern of offending involving motor vehicles”.

She said his letter of apology was “brief but it says all that needs to be, and can be, said. It rightly expresses your remorse and your deep wish that you could turn the clock back”.

Noting Reilly’s previous testimony in the witness box, Judge English added: “I do judge that your remorse is entirely genuine.”

Mr Murray said Reilly was a father of six children aged from one to 10, and his wife was pregnant with a seventh child.

He said Reilly had been suffering a panic attack at the time and had been driving himself to hospital with his father.

Hackney council CCTV footage played to a previous hearing showed Reilly driving the Nissan Note car at speed the wrong way down a one-way street, through traffic lights at red and overtaking at speed immediately prior to the collision.

The car’s speed was estimated at 46mph but with a range of 43mph to 49mph. The court ordered the vehicle to be destroyed.

Mr Murray said Reilly had a history of mental illness, connected to a near-fatal stabbing four years ago when he was attacked by four men with knives.

Reilly was advised by his family not to pursue criminal charges against his attackers. Mr Murray said Reilly was “probably suffering PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] from the attack.

Another factor was that he had been a passenger in a prison van that had overturned, causing him anxiety.

But Judge English said “not a single word” of Reilly’s apparent mental ill health had been mentioned to a psychiatrist who carried out a recent pre-sentencing assessment.

“What you are saying to me is not consistent with the psychiatric report,” the judge told Mr Murray.

Reilly fled the scene with his father but handed himself into police several days later.

He declined to plead guilty to causing Gao Gao’s death when the case was first heard at magistrates’ court.

However he did plead guilty last year when it was first heard at Snaresbrook Crown Court, Mr Murray said this entitled him to a 25 per cent reduction in the length of his sentence.

The judge said she had taken a starting point of 16 years in determining the sentence. She reduced this by one year because of Reilly’s pleas of mitigation and “entirely genuine” remorse, then deducted 25 per cent for the guilty plea, leaving him with a sentence of 135 months.