A man was jailed for 15 months today after seriously injuring a police officer in a hit-and-run.
Mitchel Graham, 26, was sentenced after admitting dangerous driving, failing to stop at the scene of an accident, and failing to report an accident in which Pc Diederik Coetzee (above with daughters) suffered serious head injuries.
The 55-year-old Nottinghamshire police officer, who was given the nickname RoboCop for his work on an estate in Nottingham, was cycling to a gym in Blidworth near Mansfield while off duty when he was hit last November.
Sentencing Graham at Nottingham Crown Court, Judge Jonathan Teare said: “You ploughed into him, throwing him into your windscreen and propelling him no less than 24 metres.
“You stopped for a moment, then drove off, knowing you had hit a cyclist, caring not when you left him whether he live or die.”
Pc Coetzee was found in the middle of the road with serious head injuries after the collision on Blidworth Lane last November.
The officer, who made headlines in 2005 after making hundreds of arrests in a year patrolling Nottingham’s Ladywood estate on his bike, spent six months in hospital and is still receiving rehabilitation treatment.
The court heard the 55-year-old, who joined Nottinghamshire Police in 2001, is in a wheelchair and has problems with mobility. He has no recollection of the incident.
On the night of the accident, it had been raining and driving conditions were damp, the court heard.
The car Graham was driving was in an extremely poor and dangerous condition, prosecutor Paul Stimson told the court.
There were defects with the drive shaft, exhaust and brakes and the tyres were worn and underinflated. The nearside headlamp and windscreen wipers were not working and the demisting system was faulty, the court heard.
The car was insured and had an MOT.
Graham, of Blidworth, Nottingham, told police he had a significantly limited view of the road ahead and could only see to the end of his bonnet on the night of the incident.
Sentencing him today, the judge said: “I accept you were not driving erratically or at high speed but your fault was perhaps more because you knew that your car was in a dangerous condition.
“It was dark and your visibility to your nearside was nil.
“You were effectively almost driving blind that night.”
He said Pc Coetzee had lights on his bike and was wearing a high-visibility vest.
“You saw him at the last instance and could take no avoiding action, the judge added.
“He suffered the most horrific injuries which have left him disabled for life.”
Graham told police the accident was caused by another driver who was speeding behind him but admitted he had known his car was faulty for at least a month.
When police asked whether he thought his car was safe to drive, he told them: “Not at all. I’ve been saying that for ages.”
In mitigation, Grace Hale, defending Graham, said he left the scene because he panicked, fearing he had killed the cyclist.
He thought he would be charged with murder when he found out it was a police officer, she said.
She said he apologised to the family for his actions.
Mr Stimson read out an impact statement from Coetzee’s wife Margaret in court.
In the statement, she said her husband required help to get up and walk and with tasks such as going to the toilet. He also wears a patch over one eye due to problems with his vision.
“The cheery outlook on life is no longer evident,” Mr Stimson read from the statement.
Summing up, the judge said of Pc Coetzee: “He was known in the county as he was a dedicated Pc.
“He will almost certainly never fulfil that role again. Even now, 10 months on, he had limited mobility and has suffered due to your actions a personality disorder.”
The judge said he accepted that Graham had shown genuine remorse and now accepted full liability for the accident.
Sentencing Graham to 15 months in prison and a five-year driving ban, Judge Teare said: “It may seem ridiculously short to those who grieve for a loving husband and father but that is all I can do.”
Following the sentencing, Pc Coetzee’s family thanked people for their support since the incident.
In a statement released by Nottinghamshire Police, they said: “This has been the most testing time for us as a family. Not only do we value and appreciate the selflessness of our loving father and husband, but so do the wider community of Mansfield and the police community, both local and afar. They obviously see the same valued qualities in him that we do.
“We received an overwhelming amount of emails and cards which made us aware just how well respected he is.
“The collision has undoubtedly changed his life and our lives forever.
“It is important to promote road safety among drivers and cyclists. Our dad always encouraged us to wear high-visibility clothing and helmets, and have sufficient lights on our bikes. But we know it takes all road users to be aware of what they need to do to encourage and promote safer roads.
“Our lives have certainly taken a dramatic turn, but we still remain close and we always try to keep a positive stance on things.
“The help and support from everyone, especially the police, has really helped us to overcome the initial incredibly difficult time while he was at King’s Mill Hospital and during his current specialist treatment.
“We would like to take this time to thank everyone who has sent emails, cards and messages of encouragement, from near and far, and to all of the doctors and nurses who have taken good care of my father. We truly have noticed their compassion and how important our National Heath Service is.
“The money that was so kindly raised by the local community has been donated to King’s Mill Hospital, as we felt it was important to share it with our local community.”
Detective Sergeant Ged Hazelwood, who led the investigation for Nottinghamshire Police, said he hoped today’s result would help Pc Coetzee and his family to focus solely on his progress.
Mr Hazelwood said: “Irrespective of the victim being a police officer, this has been a very emotive investigation.
“The brave battle by Diederik during his rehabilitation has been an inspiration to all involved and cemented the need to bring to justice the man who left him critically injured at the side of the road that night.
“The entire Force has been rooting for Diederik during his recuperation, and we have been supporting him and his family as they make this long and difficult journey to recovery.
“There has also been a massive response from the public, from members of the Mansfield South community for which Diederik is the beat manager, to police officers from foreign forces, all wishing him well.
“While today’s result will not change the very trying circumstances he now finds himself in, Diederik is a tough man, in mind, body and spirit, and we hope he and his family will now be able to focus solely on his progress.
“Diederik is one of a number of cyclists and pedestrians who are not seen by other road users. I would like to remind all motorists to look out for these vulnerable people on the carriageways.
“If you lose concentration and, as a result, hurt or kill someone, you will have a tragedy on your conscience and a family having to pick up the pieces.
“Nottinghamshire Police will leave no stone unturned in ensuring you face justice.” end