Road Traffic (Testing of Blood)

– in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 1 May 2024.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 2:15, 1 May 2024

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend section 7A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to provide that a specimen of blood may be subjected to a laboratory test without the permission of the person from whom it was taken;
and for connected purposes.

Since I was elected in 2019, my team and I have dealt with thousands of cases to support my constituents across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. However, no case has been as moving and upsetting, or has had as much of an impact in the community, as the tragic death of six-year-old Sharlotte-Sky Naglis on 19 June 2021. Sharlotte was out for a walk with her father along Endon Road in Norton Green to get some sweets when she was hit and killed by John Owen, who was two times over the drink-drive limit with class A drugs in his system and speeding while on his phone. The impact on the local community is impossible to overestimate. I know that friends of Sharlotte still fear crossing the road or walking to school by themselves—a milestone that, as any parent knows, is an essential part of growing up—and I know of parents who are so much more concerned about their children going out to play because of the fear that the same thing could happen to their loved ones.

As a father myself, I am humbled every time I work with Sharlotte’s brave and inspirational mother, Claire Reynolds. Although she sadly cannot be with us today as she is recovering from surgery, she has not stopped trying to get justice for her daughter. Claire and I first started working together after John Owen was given a shockingly lenient sentence. The judge, who told Mr Owen that he was

“an accident waiting to happen”, sentenced him to just six years and four months in prison, where he would only serve two and a half years behind bars. Claire, Sharlotte’s family, and I believe it to be an insult that the criminal who killed Sharlotte would spend less time behind bars than Sharlotte was alive.

However, I pass on my thanks to the Secretary of State for Justice for supporting Claire and I by blocking the ludicrous and affrontive suggestion that John Owen could have been moved to a category D prison after serving just 12 months of his sentence. That would have rubbed more salt into the wounds of all those close to Sharlotte, and I am grateful that that sickening move did not go ahead.

While we were unable to increase John Owen’s sentence, what Claire and I wanted more than anything was to leave a lasting legacy in Sharlotte’s name. We seek to amend section 7A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 by introducing Sharlotte’s law. This legislative change has one simple intention: to put victims of road traffic incidents and their families first. Under the current legislation, blood samples can be taken without consent when someone is unconscious and has been involved in a fatal collision. However, those blood samples are not allowed to be tested unless that individual gives their consent. That not only delays the conduct of the police investigation, but more importantly, it prolongs the pain for victims who are desperately seeking answers. Claire told me that her experience was like torture: for eleven weeks, the family waited, not knowing whether John Owen would wake up and be held accountable for his crimes, nor when they would get answers about what led to Sharlotte’s life being taken.

To add further confusion, if an individual regains consciousness but refuses consent for the blood sample to be tested, they will be guilty of failing to allow testing and will receive up to two years in prison. However, if that individual has taken substances or consumed alcohol to a certain limit that would act as a more serious aggravating factor and could increase their sentence beyond that additional two years, we could perversely end up with testing of blood samples being refused so that the accused could try to get a lesser sentence.

Simply put, this Bill seeks to achieve a tidying up of the law, enabling answers to be gathered by the police much more quickly, avoiding potential evidence becoming contaminated and giving answers to the victims by stating in law that, once a blood sample is taken, it can be tested. This seems particularly uncontroversial, especially as the most intrusive part of this process—the blood sample being taken—is already legal.

Claire has been so brave and courageous since her daughter passed away, and it is a testament to her selflessness, strength and resilience that, in spite of all that has happened, she is prepared to fight for justice and ensure that no other family experiences the same fate as hers. The petition supporting Sharlotte’s law has had more than 5,500 signatures. We have received the endorsement of leading drink-driving charities such as Brake, SCARD and the Campaign Against Drink Driving, as well as the unanimous support of Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Staffordshire’s police, fire and crime commissioner, Ben Adams, and The Sentinel newspaper.

Claire and I have met the Lord Chancellor and the former Roads Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Holden, to discuss our campaign. I was pleased last week to meet the current Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Guy Opperman—who updated me on the upcoming call for evidence and consultation for victims of drink-driving incidents. This is absolutely vital because victims of these tragic cases need to be able to explain how it feels when the law is working against them.

However, having been informed late last year that this process would be starting imminently, I urge the Minister to provide a specific timeframe for when this will take place. Victims of drink driving incidents need to be prioritised, and this cannot come soon enough. I hope that during the process, when it comes, the Minister and his officials will back Claire and me in our ambition to put victims first, and to change to section 7A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to introduce Sharlotte’s law.

Before I conclude, I would like to take this opportunity to praise the hard work of Councillors Dave Evans and Carl Edwards, as well as the Norton Green Residents Association, who have relentlessly campaigned since this very tragic accident for new measures to slow down traffic along Endon Road to keep residents safe.

I am extremely proud that this Bill has the support of Members from across the House. This place always works far better when we work together, and I want to thank my right hon. and hon. Friends who are backing this important legislation. This law is imperative. The trauma and torture of losing a loved one is impossible to imagine, let alone when it then appears that the law is blocking someone’s hope for justice. I want to see this legislation changed for Sharlotte and other victims of these heinous crimes, so that when their families, friends and communities go through untold grief, they can have confidence that the legal system will protect and support them, not the monsters who get behind a wheel with no thought for anyone else.

More than anything, Claire Reynolds, who saw the murderer who killed her six-year-old daughter put away for just two years after going through eleven weeks of pain in not knowing what put him behind the wheel on that day, deserves to see the law changed so that no family suffers as hers did. If anything, her selflessness deserves it.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Priti Patel, Sir Brandon Lewis, Dame Karen Bradley, Jack Brereton, Jo Gideon, Sarah Champion, Jim Shannon, Andy McDonald, Lee Anderson, Cat Smith, James Wild and Jonathan Gullis present the Bill.

Jonathan Gullis accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 14 June, and to be printed (Bill 210).