A Northumberland driver caused the death of a teenage girlfriend after he lost control and crashed into a tree

A Northumberland driver caused the death of a teenage girlfriend after he lost control and crashed into a tree
A Northumberland driver caused the death of a teenage girlfriend after he lost control and crashed into a tree

An uninsured driver who only had a provisional driving license and caused the death of his teenage girlfriend after he lost control and crashed into a tree has avoided jail.

Rhys McLennan, 20, was driving a Nissan Pixo when he lost control of the car and collided with a tree on the B6341 near Edlingham, near Alnwick, on the night of the 26th October 2020. McLennan’s girlfriend, 17-year-old Chelsea Gillie, who was the front passenger, was seriously injured in the accident and was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle, where she tragically died three days later.

On Thursday, McLennan, of Cheviot Lodge, Longframlington, appeared at Newcastle Crown Court to be convicted of causing death by careless driving, causing death by driving without a license and causing death by driving without insurance. He pleaded guilty to the offenses at a previous hearing.

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Ian West, prosecuting, said McLennan and Chelsea were a couple at the time and were at her mother’s house the night of the crash. He said McLennan was learning to drive and only had a provisional driver’s license. The court was told that his mother would also give him driving lessons in a Nissan Pixo which had been given to McLennan by his grandfather.

But when McLennan’s mother was putting her younger brother to bed, the accused made the decision to go to Alnwick Morrisons with Chelsea in order to get some juice. The court heard McLennan had taken the car without permission and her mother was “angry” when she found out she had been taken.

It was on the way back from the supermarket, on a section of the B6341, that the fatal accident occurred. Mr West said: “While negotiating a right-hand bend he lost control and the vehicle left the road on the near side and collided with a tree on the left side of the road. The car turned 180 degrees and was facing the way it came.

Chelsea Gillie, who died in an accident in October 2020
(Image: Northumbria Police)

Mr West said the “hilly” road was dark and wet at the time of the crash and another motorist pulled over to help as McLennan telephoned his mother. Emergency services then arrived and transported Chelsea, who was wearing a seatbelt, to the RVI after suffering “multiple fractures”, including to her skull and ribs. Sadly, at 7:30 a.m. on October 29, she was pronounced dead with the medical cause of death being blunt force injury.

McLennan was arrested at the scene of the accident and was found to have no intoxicants in his system after tests. He said he “lost rear control” and “swerved” into the tree.

The court heard there was no evidence to suggest McLennan exceeded the 60mph speed limit on the road at the time, but Mr West said due to his inexperience he was driving too fast for the terms. He added that a more “experienced and careful driver would have seen the dangers”.

In a statement read to the court, Chelsea’s mother Amanda said McLennan had taken away all of her “major milestones” in her life, and said the family was now broken and could not be fixed. She said Chelsea “will never have the chance to achieve any of her goals in life” and that McLennan has given the family “absolute hell”. She added: “You will be treasured in our hearts and you will never be forgotten.”

Rhys McLennan was given a suspended custodial sentence
(Image: Northumbria Police)

McLennan was sentenced to eight months in custody, suspended for 18 months and ordered to complete 15 days of rehabilitation and 150 hours of unpaid work. A four-month electronic curfew was also introduced and driving was banned for two years.

Tony Cornberg, defending, said McLennan had autism, had never had a conviction and had suffered from depression since the accident. He said: “He is tormented and no doubt will be for a very long time. He has nightmares every night, it’s the last thing he thinks about at night and the first thing in the morning.

“He remembers coming back, being giddy and looking at Chelsea. He relives that moment all the time, yelling at her to stay with him.”

Mr Cornberg added: “He really enjoyed her company, they were together for five months and had a very similar sense of humour. He says he loved her more than anything.”

Sentencing McLennan, Judge Adams said: “It must be clear to you that this accident was caused by the way you drive.” He said McLennan was diagnosed with PTSD following the incident and also started drinking alcohol and at some point took an overdose.

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