A dangerous driver who killed a young mother-of-two in a shocking collision as she cycled home has been jailed for 11 years.
Martin Reilly, 29, who has several previous convictions, was driving an uninsured car and was on police bail, collided head-on with Gao Gao on Whiston Road, Hackney, on September 21 last year.
He was on the wrong side of the road when he lost control of the car, traveling at almost 50mph on a residential street at 20mph in wet conditions.
Gao Gao, a 36-year-old “extraordinary and dedicated” mother of two and a “brilliant” professional fundraiser who raised millions for dementia research, suffered multiple traumatic injuries. She died early the next morning at the Royal London hospital.
Judge Caroline English, sitting at Snaresbrook Crown Court, sentenced Reilly to 11 years and three months on Thursday after he 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 rest on license.
Judge English said: “This offense is clearly so serious that nothing other than an immediate and substantial custodial sentence can be justified.”
He 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 beg her ‘mama’ to come home.
The couple’s four-year-old son was said to be too afraid to cycle to school and had asked his father to stop cycling in case he too were killed.
Daniel Murray, defending, told the court on Thursday, ahead of sentencing, that Reilly felt great remorse for causing Gao Gao’s death.
Mr Murray said: “He had no intention of hurting anyone that day.
“He has also written a letter expressing his deep sadness and shame at what happened.”
Reilly’s family had left 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 “might ring hollow to some of those listening in the courtroom”.
The mother and sister of Gao Gao, a Chinese-British national, and several friends were in the courtroom to hear the sentencing.
The judge had to reconvene the court after initially incorrectly saying that Reilly would serve only half of his sentence in prison. She later changed that to two-thirds.
In her summary, Judge English said: “There is nothing I can say, and no sentence I can pass, that can ease the enormous impact and grief of Gao Gao’s family, loved ones and colleagues.”
She said Gao Gao’s death was “nothing short of a personal tragedy” and a “terrible loss” for her family. “Gao Gao is lost to them forever,” she said.
She said: “It is clear from everything I have heard and read that Gao Gao was a much loved and highly respected wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and colleague.
“It is clear that Gao Gao was a very intelligent, diligent and talented individual. She has 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 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, that he had “nothing to do with being on the road in the first place.”
She said CCTV footage showed he had been driving in a “sustained dangerous manner” immediately before the crash, at speeds that were more than double the legal limit and were “completely inappropriate” for the weather conditions and residential roads.
She said his driving prior to the crash involved a “number of aggressive, highly dangerous, completely illegal manoeuvres”, including a near miss with a moped rider.
Referring to Reilly’s numerous previous driving convictions, the judge said the collision was a “tragic escalation of a pattern of offenses involving motor vehicles”.
She said his apology letter “was short, but it says everything that needs and can be said. It rightly expresses your regret and your deep wish that you could turn back the clock.”
Noting Reilly’s previous testimony on the witness stand, Judge English added: “I am of the opinion that your contrition is entirely sincere.”
Mr Murray said Reilly was the father of six children aged from one to 10, and his wife was pregnant with a seventh child.
He said Reilly had suffered a panic attack at the time and drove to the hospital with his father.
Hackney Council CCTV footage played at an earlier hearing showed Reilly driving the Nissan Note car at high speed in the wrong direction on a one-way street, going through red traffic lights and overtaking at high speed immediately prior to the collision .
The speed of the car was estimated at 70 km/h, but with a range of 70 to 70 km/h. The court has decided that the vehicle must be destroyed.
Mr Murray said Reilly had a history of mental illness linked 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 from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] of the attack.
Another factor was that he had been a passenger in a prison van that had overturned, causing him concern.
But Judge English said “not a single word” about Reilly’s apparent mental health problems had been said to a psychiatrist who had recently conducted a pre-sentencing review.
“What you are saying to me does not match the psychiatric report,” the judge told Murray.
Reilly fled the scene with his father, but turned himself in to police several days later.
He refused to plead guilty to causing Gao Gao’s death when the case was first heard at the magistrates’ court.
Although he did plead guilty last year when the case was first heard at Snaresbrook Crown Court, Mr Murray said this entitled him to a 25 per cent reduction in sentence.
The judge said that when determining the sentence she assumed 16 years. She shortened this by a year due to Reilly’s pleas of mitigation and “fully sincere” remorse, and then deducted 25 percent for the guilty plea, giving him a 135-month prison sentence.