I should start by saying that due to personal events the family cannot be here with us tonight, but they are watching.
I am here today to tell a tragic story, one that I sincerely wish had never happened, but nevertheless it is a story that needs to be told, even at this time of year. It is a story of loss, of a family let down by our criminal justice system and of a community united in grief.
At the heart of this story is a wonderful little boy named Kayden Lee Dunn. Kayden was a happy, healthy little boy with a huge personality, big blue eyes and a laugh his mum said could “fill the world with joy.” His mum, Tonie, has told me that when she first held him and stared into those big, shiny blue eyes, she tried to imagine the perfect future for her little boy. She thought about what his life might hold and the role he might play in the world he had just come into. Perhaps he would grow up to be a policeman, a footballer or even a dancer. Whatever the future might hold, Tonie knew that she would always be proud of Kayden and that he would always make her proud.
Kayden was full of energy, and he loved to learn. At the age of three, he would play games on his way to nursery with his mum, trying to spot shapes in the clouds or count how many cars there were of each colour. Red was his favourite. He loved going to school, too. In his last few months of year 2, he was engrossed in his lessons about knights and castles. Learning his times tables was a different story, but Kayden was determined to get them right, practising every night at the kitchen table and so proud of himself when he finally cracked his three and four times tables. In 2015, he made his acting debut in the school Christmas play. His line was, “To the moon and the stars.” That was a line that would come up again and again with his family. Whenever Kayden wanted to know how much his mum loved him, that was always her answer: “To the moon and the stars.”
For Kayden’s family, it is fitting that we should be having this debate in the week before Christmas, because this was his favourite time of year. He would spend Christmas eve making keepsakes and baking cakes with his parents and siblings, waiting for the joy of Christmas morning, with the laughs, the excitement and—with lots of young children—the noise as the gifts were unwrapped. If he were here today, Kayden would be fizzing in anticipation for next week.
I spoke to the hon. Lady beforehand to ask if I could make a comment in the debate. I sympathise with her and with the family who have lost a loved one, because just last week in my constituency, a wee three-year-old boy was knocked down on Thursday night and passed away on Saturday past. That was the second death in that family; their wee girl died some 18 months ago. I just want to put on record my sympathy for the family and to agree with the hon. Lady that Christmas should be a time for fun and families. They called that wee boy in my constituency Kai Corkum, and his mum and dad and his two wee brothers are grieving for him today.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am sure that the whole House sends its condolences to Kai’s family.
Unfortunately, Kayden Dunn will not be with us this Christmas, nor any other. On
What happened next cemented this tragic event as an act not only of gross irresponsibility but of heartlessness. As Kayden lay mortally wounded in the street, the driver got out of his car and checked the vehicle for damage. Then, without a second glance, he got back in and drove away. Although he later returned to the scene on foot, accompanied by his father, that belated gesture of self-preservation was too late to help little Kayden. He died from his injuries in Birmingham Children’s Hospital five days later, on
This was a tragedy beyond measure for Kayden’s family and friends. He was a bubbly, blue-eyed little boy. His mum said he was cheeky, full of joy and brought a smile to everyone’s face. In an instant, this treasured son and brother, this bundle of energy who would spend all afternoon on his trampoline shouting, “Mummy, I’ve done 250 bounces; I’m shattered,” was gone—taken—but, as heartbreaking as that is, it got even worse. This family, who had already lost their child, would be denied justice, too. After pleading guilty to causing death by careless driving, the perpetrator was sentenced to 12 months—just 12 months for a life.
The sentence did not just devastate a family but infuriated and angered a community. Thousands of people signed a petition calling for an urgent review of the case. The driver claimed in court that his disgraceful actions at the scene were due to shock, yet CCTV footage of the incident shows him calmly leave the car, checking only for possible vehicle damage and seemingly showing no concern for Kayden’s critical condition. His actions both before sentencing and after his release also demonstrate an absence of remorse. Following his release, Kayden’s killer was handed a number of conditions and has broken several of them. Shortly after his release, he was jailed for a further 12 weeks after being caught behind the wheel of a car in defiance of a driving ban. He is not supposed to make contact with the family, yet he approached them in a local convenience store just before he returned to prison.
The family have also seemingly fallen through the cracks with the probation service. The family were informed that it would organise a victims meeting, so that Kayden’s family could confront the perpetrator in a safe environment and have the chance to express what his actions had done to them, the impact on their family and their complete devastation. However, such a meeting never materialised, despite the promises of the probation service at the time. To lose a child, especially at such a young age, is to endure a wound that never heals. For the family to see the perpetrator treated so leniently and to be made to feel insecure in their own community is to have salt rubbed into that wound in the cruellest way possible. My constituents have been let down by the Crown Prosecution Service, which failed to secure a punishment befitting the crime, and by the probation service, which seems uncommitted to enforcing the conditions that were still in place to protect this grieving family.
In October 2017, the Government announced that the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving would be raised from 14 years to life imprisonment. That was the right decision and I welcome it, but it came too late for Kayden’s family and it will fail to deliver justice in future unless prosecutors pursue charges that fit the crime and do not reduce such heinous acts to the lighter charge of death by careless driving. We do not just need the right sentencing guidelines; we need to ensure that the right charge is brought in the first place.
While our institutions may have failed on this occasion, our community stepped up. I have already mentioned the thousands who supported the campaign for justice for Kayden, but that is nothing compared with the extraordinary outpouring of love and support in Sneyd Green and beyond in my great city of Stoke-on-Trent. Thousands of pounds have been raised and a permanent memorial to Kayden can now be found in the heart of the community where he went to school and where his family still live. In the midst of that good will and kindness, Kayden’s family decided to give something back to the community.
Throughout this awful period, Kayden’s family have spoken glowingly about the care that Kayden received at the hands of our NHS and the support that was there for the family in their darkest hour——the air ambulance staff, the emergency NHS practitioners, the police, the school, the residents’ association and the wider community. To thank the community, the family launched the Kayden Dunn memorial fund, and one of their first acts was to raise funds to donate parcels for families who will unfortunately have similar experiences to theirs, encouraging people to donate the vital items that families need in times of unexpected crisis, such as toothpaste, shower gel and clean underwear, to Birmingham Women’s and Children’s hospital to ensure that those essentials will be available for other families.
I am immensely proud to represent a place where such care and community spirit exist, and I am honoured to represent this family who have endured so much and shown such courage in the face of tragedy. My speech to this House is nearly over, but there is no end to this story for Kayden’s family. The pain of losing a loved one never leaves; we simply learn to bear it. In this instance, that pain is made worse by the knowledge that justice has not been delivered, but this family is inspirational, and their new daughter, Angel, has helped them survive and thrive together.
However, we will not forget that the man who stole Kayden’s life has been allowed to go with his own without serving an adequate punishment for his crime and without showing any genuine remorse for his actions. His sentence was an affront to justice and an insult to a suffering family. It is too late to change that, too late to bring Kayden back and too late to hold those who took him from us to account, but it is not too late to learn the lessons of this case and to apply them to try to ensure that no other family will have to suffer the way that this family has.
Words cannot give Kayden Dunn his life back, but they can honour and preserve his memory. While his life was all too brief, they can ensure that his name and his memory will live on long after us through the records of this place. In that spirit, I believe that the final words should not belong to me, but to Kayden’s mum, Tonie. In her eulogy for little Kayden, she said:
“I miss him so much. I wrote this so you could all have an insight into my boy’s life, not to upset you but to show you how proud I am of my baby, and to show you what a beautiful impact he had on our lives. Memories will never fade and I’ll always be grateful for my little blue-eyed boy.”
I pay tribute to Ruth Smeeth for securing this debate. This is a genuinely horrifying case, and I hope I will be able slightly to express our debt of gratitude to her and to Kayden Dunn’s family for bringing this case to the House.
It begins, of course, as a terrible personal story of a little boy. Anybody looking at the photographs or hearing the hon. Lady talk about Kayden on a trampoline or in his school play will feel the horror of what happened, which is something that has ramifications for all our lives, whether or not we are parents. I am the father of a four-year-old boy and an 18-month-old boy, and I think of such incidents every time I go to the road. All of us, in different ways, will reflect on this, and I hope that all of us will reflect on the justice system and on driving.
At the heart of this is the crime committed by a young man at the wheel of a car, which led to something so horrifying as the loss of a young life. It raises for us a couple of issues that I hope to touch on before I conclude. First, the Ministry of Justice must take some practical steps to learn from Kayden Dunn’s case. The hon. Lady specifically raised the case of the probation service and what we can do on restorative justice. Restorative justice is hugely important, and it can really help the business of healing and it can really help a family, like Kayden’s family, come to terms with somebody who has committed such a crime. There have been delays in this case and, as we have explained to Kayden’s mother, part of it is due to her personal family circumstances. I believe a meeting has now taken place—on
The broader question of law, moving from the probation service to sentencing, is very important. As Jim Shannon said, there is the broader issue of how we deal with people who cause death by their actions in a motor car. We all need to remember the fundamental fact that a motor car is, in effect, a lethal weapon: it is tonnes of metal, with a powerful engine, travelling at a very great speed.
The awful truth is that recent statistics suggest that 25% of young men aged between 17 and 21 have a car crash. That is 25% of young men aged between 17 and 21 at the wheel of this lethal weapon driving carelessly or dangerously.
My heart goes out to Kayden’s family. Sadly, what we have heard tonight is not an isolated incident. The Minister talks about a car being a lethal weapon, and anybody else killing somebody with a lethal weapon would be charged with murder. Will there be any steps to change the law to make the lethal weapon of a car being driven dangerously murder?
That is probably the central question in this whole debate. The answer, of course, is that, in terms of the loss of life, it is like murder. The act has killed someone, and that life can never be given back. The difference between murder and this, of course, is in the intention of the individual, which is a very difficult thing to talk about. English law traditionally distinguishes between somebody intentionally trying to kill someone, and somebody whose acts, through recklessness in this case, have resulted in a death. One reason why we are moving to increase the penalty for causing death by dangerous driving to a life sentence is that we believe strongly that this is, if not quite murder, indistinguishable in effect from manslaughter.
There are two types of manslaughter—illegal act manslaughter and gross negligent manslaughter. We could argue that somebody at the wheel of a car killing somebody else either by speeding or drink-driving, which would be unlawful act, or simply by driving dangerously, is breaching their duty of care to other road users. Their recklessness lies in the fact that they ought to be aware, or any reasonable person would be aware, that their actions had a high likelihood of resulting in death.
There are also things we need to do on the broader issue of road safety that do not relate directly to Kayden Dunn’s case but which are important for future cases. Some good campaigns have been run in this House drawing attention to how vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians can be. Tragically, Kayden is one of almost 440 pedestrians killed this year in the UK by motor cars.
The case of serious injury is another thing we have been reviewing, and we are currently looking at that issue from different directions. We have been looking at increasing the penalty for causing death by dangerous driving. Secondly, we have been looking at increasing the penalty for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. We have been looking at the issue of causing injury and the position of vulnerable road users, in particular, cyclists, of whom more than 100 are killed a year, pedestrians, of whom about 450 are killed a year, and even people on horses, of whom nearly 40 are killed a year. My hon. Friend asked about injuries, and the answer is that such a case would attract a two or three-year maximum sentence, but that is something we are examining.
I do not wish to take up too much of the House’s time, because Kayden Dunn’s case is so horrifying, and so personal to Kayden’s family and to the community in Stoke, that I almost feel it is slightly inappropriate for me, as a Minister, to reduce it to the language of the Chamber or of a policy debate. However, the issue of road safety matters to us all, and Kayden Dunn’s case gives us an opportunity to reflect on that. The truth is that in 1926 4,800 people were killed in road traffic accidents in Britain. By 1966, the number had risen to 8,000, whereas this year 1,700 people were killed. So our roads are getting safer and fewer people are getting killed. Obviously, in 1926, when more than twice as many people were killed, there were far fewer cars on roads, but 1,700 people is still far, far too many. That needs not only a legal response—it needs proper judicial sentencing and punishment for people who break the law and kill people—but practical steps. It requires us to look closely at the driving test and at whether people should be re-tested. It requires us to look at the position of professional drivers, as, sadly, quite a lot of injuries are caused by people whose jobs lead them to drive unusual numbers of hours. It leads us to look at road design, what happens on the streets and the way we set out the markings. It leads us to think about road safety campaigns for children in schools. It leads us to think about road safety for cyclists, about protective gear for cyclists and, of course, about motorcyclists, who are currently probably the second most vulnerable group on the road.
None of that can take us away from the individual case, so let me finish by saying again that the case of Kayden Dunn has been an opportunity for us all in the House to reflect, over a serious half hour, on the horror and the tragedy that lies behind the language of our law. Too often, here, we have pieces of paper and talk in an abstract way. We forget the real people—the real victims—and the fact that when somebody is killed, there is not a single victim; the ripples of that death spread through an entire family and then through an entire community.
By courageously working with her Member of Parliament to bring this case to Parliament, Kayden’s mother has made several things happen. First, to learn from Kayden’s tragic death, we must improve road safety in any way we can. Secondly, we have to look at our justice system and think about the ways in which that system is fair and whether it addresses the question of the impact of a person’s act on a victim, and balances that with questions of loss and remorse. One question raised in the debate was whether the young man who was driving the car felt the appropriate remorse. It is right that in our legal system the showing of remorse or lack of remorse can act as a mitigating or aggravating factor in the determination of the length of a sentence. That leads us back to the broader issue around extending the maximum penalties.
In the end, the tribute has to go back to Kayden Dunn and his family—back to that little glimpse of a young boy on a trampoline, to a glimpse of a young boy at a school play. There was also a glimpse of another young man. God forbid that we judge another human being, but perhaps we can move on from the case and all reflect on this when we get behind the wheel of a car. The car is a weapon and, whenever we get into it, it could kill someone—it could kill a young child. If any of us thinks of speeding in a residential area or, God forbid, thinks of getting into a car uninsured or driving without a licence, we are acting with such gross negligence and such recklessness that it must be equated morally with the most criminal or grossly negligent acts that we commit.
I hope we can take away from this debate the beauty of that young man’s life and a strong sense from this Chamber going out to society that we will remember Kayden Dunn with enormous, sincere respect for him and his family and for the way they have reached out to Parliament. We should also take away the hope that in future, there will not be many more Kayden Dunns.
Question put and agreed to.