A mother of six who killed two pedestrians when she ploughed into them with her 4x4 while on high-strength painkillers has been jailed.
Despite a passionate speech from her barrister, 38-year-old mum Emma Downs was sent down this afternoon for causing the deaths of James Morden and Matthew Lind near Lewes in September 2017.
Her trial heard this week that she had been taking Tramadol for a long-standing back condition, but she denied having taken any before driving that fateful night.
She had sought to convince the jury that messages she sent such as ‘I can barely drive, it’s not safe at night’ were entirely innocent, a lie the judge said was 'pitiful'.
But jurors took less than an hour to find her guilty at Lewes Crown Court this morning.
Downs, 38, of Sussex View Close in Crowborough, had denied the offences.
Matthew's sister: 'When I found out I was overcome. I was devastated'
Heartbroken members of James and Matthew’s families packed the public gallery this afternoon to hear Judge Christine Laing QC pass sentence.
In a powerful statement, Matthew’s sister Christina Lind-Hunter told the court: “I found out about my brother’s death whilst I was overseas in Malaysia.
“When I found out I was overcome. I was devastated.”
The international athlete says she now struggles to motivate herself at work and feels a ‘fury’ about what happened to her beloved brother.
Mrs Lind-Hunter added: “I have returned [to the UK] a different person.”
James' dad: 'We had to arrange his funeral which is something that no parent should have to do for their child.'
Dennis Morden said his family have been left heartbroken at his son James’ death.
“We do not know if we will ever come to terms with the pain we feel at our loss.
“He was a caring, friendly person with a great sense of humour.”
Dennis said his son was passionate about his work at the Institute of Cancer Research.
“We are extremely upset that he will be unable to fulfil his potential in his career in life-saving research.
“We had to arrange his funeral which is something that no parent should have to do for their child.”
Defence barrister pleas for Downs to get a suspended sentence
Defence barrister Rowan Jenkins said: “That decision to drive has had profound consequences for many including her.
“But she is a lady that comes before you never having put a foot wrong in her life and a life that has been dominated by simple values like caring for others.”
He asked the judge to consider Downs’ six children and the effect that sending her to prison would have on them.
'Pitiful' attempt to deceive the jury over damning text messages
Judge Christine Laing QC said: “Matthew Lind and James Morden were two young men in the prime of their lives.
“They were much loved, each with a wide circle of family and friends and I have heard and read deeply moving evidence in of the impact caused by their loss on those left behind.”
She told Downs that her driving was ‘not far short’ of dangerous driving.
“It was rather pitiful yesterday listening to you tell lies to this jury trying to explain away those texts.
“You were having trouble seeing in low light conditions no doubt because of the prescription medication you were on.
“You were in in pain, you were unwell and you were extremely tired all of which you knew because you were telling your friends and family the exact same thing.”
Judge's warning to drivers
Judge Laing took the opportunity to issue a warning to drivers everywhere.
She said: “This case is once again a powerful reminder of the responsibility of all of us who drive.
“The responsibility that we bear when we get behind the wheel of a car.
“That responsibility includes making a personal assessment of whether we are fit to be driving.
“Taking a calculated risk for our own convenience can have devastating consequences for other people as this case demonstrates.”
Judge Laing declined to give Downs a suspended sentence and instead jailed her for three-and-a-half years.
Downs was also disqualified from driving for five-and-a-half years.