A VAN driver who killed a cyclist while texting behind the wheel has been granted an appeal hearing against his sentence.

Christopher Gard, 30, of Linnets Way, Alton, was using his mobile phone while driving on the A31 at Bentley when he ran into the back of cyclist Lee Martin in August last year.

Gard is said to have struck the cyclist at 65mph before deliberately deleting three messages from his mobile phone.

Mr Martin, 48, from Basingstoke, was taking part in an organised time trial event when the accident occurred. The father of two died later in hospital.

In September, Gard was jailed for nine years by Winchester Crown Court for causing death by dangerous driving and was disqualified from driving for 14-and-a-half years.

The court heard that Gard, who was texting immediately prior to hitting Mr Martin, had at least six previous convictions for using a phone at the wheel prior to causing this fatality.

After the trial the Martin family criticised the courts for failing to ban Gard from the road prior to the hearings.

The victim’s brother, Darrell Martin, is widely reported as saying: “There were opportunities to stop the man from driving around. Just six weeks before he had persuaded a magistrate not to take his licence away and promised to lock his phone in the boot.”

In describing Lee’s death as “totally avoidable”, Darrell Martin went on to refer to the “inane” text message Gard was sending when his Ford Transit van hit Lee.

“That’s what killed my brother,” he said.

A statement from the family after the initial trial in September concluded: “While Lee’s death is clearly the fault of the defendant, we feel that the legal system is somewhat to blame. The leniency shown in this case on the defendant, and the lack of understanding of the serious nature of using a phone whilst driving has resulted in Lee Martin’s death. While this carries on, there will be more families in this tragic situation.”

Now, as the family is faced with an appeal hearing, the police have launched a crackdown on people using their phones at the wheel – a campaign that Darrell Martin believes will be a waste unless courts are tougher on offenders.