A DRUG driver who killed popular Penhill motorcyclist Luke Chapman has been jailed for more than two years.

Sentencing Paul Middleton at Swindon Crown Court on what would have been Mr Chapman’s 30th birthday, Judge Jason Taylor QC said: “I pass this sentence with an incredible heavy heart. You made a dreadful error of judgement in choosing to drive that day.

“But you are a young man with I hope a bright future. That is more than Luke has.”

Swindon Advertiser:

Paul Middleton outside crown court

The 25-year-old, of Bramwell Close, Stratton, had denied causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drugs but was found guilty in November after a two-day trial.

The Swindon jury heard Middleton was behind the wheel of a Peugeot 208 and three times over the cannabis drug-drive limit when he pulled onto Penhill Drive from Durnford Road on June 18, 2018. He had smoked the class B drug the night before.

He saw Mr Chapman but continued his manoeuvre. The 28-year-old dad-of-two was riding a stolen and uninsured 750cc motorbike on false plates at twice the speed limit and on an under-inflated back tyre.

Several witnesses described seeing Mr Chapman, who was disqualified from driving, pull a wheelie shortly before he slammed on his brakes causing him to come off the motorcycle and slide into the path of Middleton’s white Peugeot. One eyewitness recalled seeing Mr Chapman pulling the wheelie. In a statement read to the court she said: “I would describe the manner of driving as dangerous.”

Swindon Advertiser:

The scene of the crash

Closing the prosecution case last year, Hannah Squire said: “Stated very simply, Paul Middleton saw the bike. He saw Luke Chapman riding down Penhill Drive, but nevertheless he chose to pull out from Durnford Road into Penhill Drive – into the path of Luke Chapman on his motorbike.

“Regardless of the manner of the riding of the bike by Luke Chapman this collision and the death of Luke Chapman needn’t have happened had Paul Middleton taken a little more care at the junction.

“His decision to pull out from Durnford Road at the point he did was quite literally fatal.”

Swindon Advertiser:

Luke Chapman

In mitigation Middleton’s barrister, Sushil Kumar, said his client was remorseful and had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder in the 18 months since the incident. He had not got behind the wheel of a car since.

“Mr Middleton feels extremely guilty for the death of Mr Chapman and in conjunction with that shows a keen interest in any form of restorative justice,” he said.

“The loss of good character is nothing to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder he has been displaying.”

He asked the judge to consider suspending any prison sentence, saying the impact of a jail term on his client’s partner and her young children would be significant. Middleton was “not well equipped to deal with what the court knows is an unforgiving, truly harsh environment in this day and age”.

Jailing Middleton for two years and two months, Judge Jason Taylor QC said in setting heavy penalties to drug drivers who cause others’ deaths parliament had shown the “message must be loud and clear you cannot drive under the influence”.

He said: “I make it clear I am not passing a deterrent sentence but it is important that this message is heard especially in a climate where cannabis use appears increasingly present.”

Middleton was banned from driving for four years, with an extension of 13 months to cover his period in custody.