Members on both sides of the House will have experienced incredibly difficult cases in their constituency advice surgeries, but for me, few experiences have been as difficult as meeting my constituents Joanne and Robert Wark from Swillington in May this year.
Joanne and Robert came to talk to me about their son Callum. They described
Callum’s school reports talk of a child who did not always find school work easy, but always worked hard for every educational achievement. The phrase “a pleasure to teach” appeared regularly in his school reports. His family told me of a school sports day when a five-year-old Callum, already sports mad, stood on the starting line of a race that he was the favourite to win. After the klaxon had fired and halfway through the race, he turned around to see his friend—a friend with learning difficulties—standing rigid on the starting line. Callum turned around, ran back, and helped his friend to the finishing line. He lost that race, but he won many more after that.
Callum attended Brigshaw high school, an outstanding comprehensive school near Allerton Bywater in my constituency. On reaching the age of 16, he secured a part-time job at the well-known Strikes garden centre on Swillington Common, and decided that he wanted to go on to do an apprenticeship—to learn a skill for life, and then begin a career. He later secured a job locally, at the Wincanton warehouse. That job was a stop-gap, and while doing it he applied for many apprenticeships. He did not do too well in maths at school, but he needed it for the apprenticeships for which he was applying, so he took it upon himself to enrol on additional maths courses, which he attended on his days off.
I am sure the House will agree that Callum’s work ethic and self-motivation were qualities that we would wish to see in all young adults in Britain today. Just as I had to, Callum worked hard and saved up so that he could afford and insure his first car. He cherished that new-found freedom, as new drivers do, and his new car became his pride and joy. When I met Joanne and Robert for the first time, I noted that Callum’s placid, permanently selfless nature seemed quite uncommon among teenagers today. They were quick to assure me that Callum had “the usual teenage tantrums”, but they were equally quick to add that “he never caused us or anyone else any trouble.”
At 2.47 in the afternoon of
At the end of my initial meeting with Callum’s parents in Garforth library last May, Joanne turned to me and, with little hope left in her voice, thanked me—not for my offer of support, but for doing something that no one else had done. No one else had asked to hear about Callum the individual: the son, the grandson, the much-loved friend, the innocent teenager enthusiastic about the excitements of the life that he had yet to experience. Callum was not merely a number, nor is he now merely a road traffic fatality statistic. Those who knew him had little doubt that he would one day go on to great things, and today we can create a legacy in his memory. We can give his parents justice, and give a meaning to his untimely death by making an amendment to the law in the name of Callum Wark.
Stoyan Andonov Stoyanov was found to be more than three times over the legal drink-drive limit and admitted to drinking a full bottle of spirits in the 24 hours before the crash. Despite this, he knowingly placed himself behind the wheel of his heavy goods vehicle. There may have been no malice aforethought in his actions, but my constituents and hundreds of campaigners who have signed a petition believe that such actions certainly constitute unlawful act manslaughter. Those calling for stricter sentencing for drink-drivers who kill argue that the deterrent is not great enough. According to the west Yorkshire-based road safety charity, Brake, evidence suggests that the current system to tackle repeat drink-driving is not working: one in eight drink-drivers does it repeatedly, and as many as three in 10 high-risk offenders reoffend. Repeat offending is one of the major drink-driving issues, yet the penalties are the same no matter how many times an individual reoffends.
In 2004, the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving when under the influence of alcohol or drugs was increased to 14 years. However, criminal justice statistics recently published by Brake show that fewer than three in five drink-drivers who kill receive a sentence of more than five years in prison. It is my understanding that a Sentencing Council review is soon to take place and therefore, on behalf of my constituents and all victims of death by drink-driving, I call on the Ministry of Justice to review charges under the Road Traffic Act 1991 and introduce a strict minimum sentence—an amendment to the law, in the name of
Callum Wark—to ensure that those guilty of causing death while under the influence of alcohol or drugs serve a stricter minimum sentence in custody.
I dare say that nobody can begin to understand the emotional torment and heartbreak of the families of victims of road traffic fatalities. There is little one can say to offer comfort in those circumstances, but for my constituents, the difficulty of that experience was only made worse by the insensitivity of the Crown Prosecution Service, which, more than anything else, affirmed to my constituents that in the eyes of the CPS—and certainly of their CPS solicitor, Sarah Nelson—Callum was just another number, a statistic. Charities such as Brake offer fantastic support services to the victims of crime, and I know Members across the House will want to support their 17th annual road safety week on
Justice is often sought as a comfort. It is sought after the most horrific of events, but it rarely delivers the sense of closure that those who seek it desire. Justice is not about compensation; real justice is knowing that the killer of one’s child receives a custodial sentence befitting their crime. More than that, justice should be about triggering change: it should be a deterrent to prevent these terrible incidents from happening to another innocent victim.
Callum’s killer was a Bulgarian national, a European citizen. In recent months, there has been much discussion in this House and across my constituency of the advantages and disadvantages of the European Union. For now, at least, Britain is a member of that Union, and my constituents would expect the UK to use its position within it to bring about new measures to protect British citizens in the UK and in Europe. At present, there is no mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between EU member states, other than that between the UK and Ireland. In short, despite a 10-year ban from driving on UK roads, in three years’ time Mr Stoyanov could return to Bulgaria and resume driving anywhere within the European economic area. With 1.8 million Britons living and working in Europe, he will remain a threat to British citizens abroad, despite a 10-year driving ban in the UK.
On the top left-hand corner of my UK driving licence is the flag of the European Union. It suggests that it is an EU-wide driving licence, in a standard format recognisable by officials in all EU member states. That symbol is meant to make it harder for drivers banned in one country to carry on driving undetected in another, yet in practice it is meaningless.
According to the European Union’s mission statement, its second priority is
“to promote and protect democracy and universal rights in Europe”,
but with rights must come responsibility, and it cannot be right that a foreign national sentenced in the UK and banned from driving here can return to his native country—a country within the European Union—and avoid a ban imposed in UK courts. If the EU sees fits to protect universal rights in Europe, surely there must be an obligation on member states to ensure that responsibilities are universal, too. For without collective responsibilities, what is the Union but a talking shop of ideologies? On behalf of my constituents, I urge Ministers to open renegotiations with the European Commission, with a view to reaching mutual recognition of driving disqualifications across member states.
When sentencing Stoyan Andonov Stoyanov at York Crown court earlier this year, the judge indicated that the court would apply for a deportation order on completion of a custodial sentence. My constituents expect that this order will be granted and the individual deported, yet guidelines on the deportation of foreign national offenders under section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007 highlight a discrepancy between nationals of countries within and nationals of countries outside the European economic area. For example, under present deportation threshold criteria, non-EEA nationals sentenced to 12 months or more are considered for deportation by the UK Border Agency, whereas deportation is considered for EEA nationals only if they are sentenced to 24 months or more, unless the offence relates to drugs, sex, violence or “other serious criminal activity”.
For the purposes of protecting British citizens at home, what is the difference between a foreign national offender from Bulgaria and, for example, a foreign national offender from a few miles over the border in Turkey? Is a criminal from Burgas any less of a criminal than one from Dereköy? Does membership of the European economic area suddenly make a member state’s criminals a lesser threat to UK citizens than those from another country? I think not. A foreign national convicted in a UK court should be subject to the same deportation threshold criteria irrespective of whether their home country is a member state of some international economic community. My constituents and I therefore urge Ministers to review deportation criteria for EEA foreign national offenders and decrease the deportation threshold to a sentence of 12 months, thereby removing the nepotism toward nationals from within the European economic area.
I make that request because it was evident from the court case that Callum’s killer had no better understanding of British law or customs merely because he was a foreign national from within the European Union. In court, it was evident that Mr Stoyanov knew little English, either to speak or understand. He claimed to know nothing about the highway code or about UK drink-driving laws. A broader political debate arises from these issues, but this debate is not the place to air those thoughts. It is evident that Mr Stoyanov and the foreign haulage company he worked for had no knowledge of, and had made no effort to understand, the UK highway code and our drink-drive laws before he entered the UK.
Let us be clear that the foreign haulage firm sending its heavy goods vehicles across Europe and into the United Kingdom has a duty of care to ensure that its employees understand the laws of the road in the UK. It says much about the kind of company that Mr Stoyanov worked for that the only interest it showed as regards the death of my constituent was in its repeat inquires about securing the return of its expensive heavy goods vehicle. Perhaps when Ministers next meet with Commissioners in the European Union, they might wish to address this issue and encourage member states to look at the effectiveness and content of assessments for the distribution of large goods vehicle licences across Europe.
Finally, for reasons that I have discussed, my constituents believe a review of sentencing of convicted foreign drivers is desperately needed. I do not believe that stricter custodial sentencing in the UK is enough to deter others from driving while drunk. For convicted foreign drivers such as Mr Stoyanov, driving is their livelihood. Sentencing guidelines, together with the absence of restrictions preventing those subject to a deportation order from one day reapplying for entry to the UK, mean that there is no reason why Callum’s killer cannot be back driving his HGV on UK roads in 10 years’ time. The United Kingdom needs to send a strong message to foreign nationals who choose to ignore, or plead ignorance of, our drink-drive laws. My constituents therefore ask Ministers to consider, when they review sentencing guidelines, imposing a lifetime ban on driving in the UK for foreign nationals convicted of causing death while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.