PC's family may slam hit-run jail term as 'ridiculous' admits judge
A JUDGE criticised "restrictive" sentencing powers as he jailed a man who injured an award-winning policeman for just 15 months.
Mitchel Graham, 26, hit off-duty PC Diederik Coetzee – dubbed 'Robocop' – knocking him off his bicycle before speeding away "leaving him for dead" last November.
The super-fit police officer sustained life-changing injuries which left him needing help to even dress himself.
The 55-year-old – who earned praise from MPs and was nicknamed "Robocop" because of his record number of arrests – suffered head injures and still requires 24-hour care.
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The father-of-three is unlikely to return to work.
Graham was caught by police in Sunderland, 150 miles away from where he hit PC Coetzee with his Volkswagon Corado in Blidworth.
Yesterday he was jailed for 15 months at Nottingham Crown Court, after pleading guilty to dangerous driving, failing to stop, and failing to report the accident. The de-mister and wipers on his car had not been working.
But Judge Jonathan Teare said he would understand if PC Coetzee's family thought the sentence was "ridiculously short".
He said: "You knew that vehicle was in a dangerous condition and had known for a long time. It was 6.30pm on a winter evening, so it was dark. But PC Coetzee was fully lit, with front and rear lights and wearing a proper high visibility jacket. Because of the condition of your car you did not see him until the very last moment and you could take no avoiding action.
"Your reactions after that did you no credit at all. You stopped briefly before speeding off. You left him to die.
"He now has horrendous injuries. He is disabled for a very long time if not for life. He has suffered a personality disorder and his family and friends no longer see the dedicated, hard working man they used to know.
"I cannot say whether you were over the drink-drive limit, but because you sped away you could not give a sample that aggravates the crime.
"Those in Parliament in their wisdom have set a maximum sentence for dangerous driving at two years, and death by dangerous driving at ten years.
"Giving you credit for your guilty plea and remorse the maximum sentence I can pass is one of 15 months.
"I understand that the family and friends of Mr Coetzee may see that as ridiculously short for such a grave crime but it is all that I can give with the restrictions placed upon me."
Paul Stimson, prosecuting, read out a victim impact statement from Mr Coetzee's wife.
He said: "Our lives changed forever on November 11. Diederik was a dedicated man who embraced life to the full.
"He was a fantastic father to his three daughters and embraced every moment. Now he is in wheelchair. He needs help to go to the toilet and dress himself. His movement is extremely restricted.
"The outgoing man with a positive outlook on everything is no longer evident."
Mr Stimson added: "The defendant told police that he had had two bottles of Desperados beer that night and he may well have been over the limit.
"The de-mister on his car no longer worked and he admitted he had known the car was not in a fit state to drive."
Grace Hall, defending, said Graham had panicked when he saw he had hit a policeman. She said: "When he saw it was a policeman he had hit and the injuries he had caused he was convinced he was dead and that he was going to be charged with murder.
"He is incredibly remorseful for what has happened. He in no way ever intended to cause the injuries that he has and accepts that a custodial sentence is coming his way."
Detective Sergeant Ged Hazelwood, who led the investigation, said after the hearing:
"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."
PC Coetzee joined Notts Police in 1999 after working as a dog handler for the South African police.
He shot to fame in 2006 when he arrested a record 404 people.