Dangerous Driving Penalties — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:00 pm on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma Conservative, Reading West 3:00 pm, 17th September 2015

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered penalties for dangerous driving.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time in this Parliament, Mr Hollobone.

On 13 February last year, the lives of two families living in my constituency were devastatingly changed forever as a result of a most appalling act of dangerous driving. My constituents Kris Jarvis and John Morland were out that day enjoying their regular pastime of cycling. They were cycling back home to their young families. Both men were wearing safety helmets and clothing that made them visible to motorists. Sadly, that did not save them from being mowed down by a stolen sportscar, driven by an individual by the name of Alexander Walter.

Walter was driving at 70 mph in a 30 mph zone. He was almost two and a half times over the legal blood alcohol limit. He was found to have taken cocaine in the 24 hours before the appalling incident. He had 67 previous convictions, one of which related to his having phoned Heathrow airport to deliver a hoax bomb threat only days after the devastating 9/11 tragedy. He was also serving a four-year ban from driving. Every time I read this litany of Walter’s transgressions, it leaves me absolutely numb with shock.

Kris Jarvis and John Morland died as result of the injuries they sustained, killed by the actions of a dangerous driver. As a result of Walter’s actions, Tracey Fidler lost her fiancé Kris and their five children—Kyle, Ryan, Luke, Emma and the youngest, Adam, who was nine years old at the time of this tragedy—lost a father. Hayley Lindsay lost her fiancé John and their two young children, Harvey and Jazmin, who was seven years old at the time, lost their father. Both couples had planned to marry this year. Tracey and Hayley are here today watching this debate.

Unless someone has gone through the same horrific experience as Tracey and Hayley and their families, it is impossible to imagine how difficult it has been at times for them and their children to cope with this harrowing tragedy. I have got to know Hayley and Tracey and members of their extended family over the past year, and I know that at times it has been a case of taking each day as it comes. The pain of their loss is with them constantly. They have been helped by their families and friends, and I pay tribute to all of them, including Karen Rowland who has accompanied them to Parliament today. Tracey and Hayley are remarkable women: incredibly brave, wonderfully caring and hugely determined. Determined to make sure that John and Kris’s lives were not lost in vain. Determined to get justice for the families of future victims whose lives are cut short by the actions of dangerous drivers such as Walter.

Talking of justice, I should note that for killing two people and ruining the lives of two families Walter was sentenced to 10 years and three months in prison. Given how the current justice system operates, he will probably be out in less time than that. To add insult to grievous injury, Walter decided to appeal against his sentence.

Thankfully, he was not successful. In contrast, Tracey and Hayley and their families started, on 13 February last year, a life sentence without Kris and John. In their case, life really does mean life. Simply put, this is not justice. This is not fair. This regime of sentencing for those who cause death by dangerous driving has to change. It has to get much tougher, and Tracey and Hayley believe it needs toughening, too.

Tracey and Hayley started a Government e-petition last year calling for a change in the law so that a dangerous driver receives a maximum sentence of 14 years for each person they kill, with the sentence to be served consecutively, not concurrently as happens right now. If the terms of the e-petition became law and if a dangerous driver killed two people, he or she would face up to 28 years behind bars. Thanks to Tracey and Hayley’s tenacity, the e-petition had reached over 102,000 signatures when it closed in March. I want to thank the national media, in particular The Sun, and our local papers, the online getreading and The Reading Chronicle for all that they have done to publicise the petition.

It is a remarkable achievement to reach over 100,000 signatures on a Government e-petition, and it is all the more remarkable that that was done by a few individuals. It was not backed by any national organisation or campaign team, but by two women and their friends and families, who care so much about this matter. It also demonstrates that constituents across this great country of ours want the law strengthened when it comes to sentencing for dangerous driving.

Tracey and Hayley have brought their campaign for justice for victims and their families to the heart of Government. We had a constructive meeting last year with the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, my right hon. Friend Mike Penning, who also responded in an extremely sympathetic tone to a short debate that I held last November on sentencing for dangerous driving offences. In February this year, Tracey and Hayley met the Prime Minister to set out their reasons for why the law should be strengthened. They were joined in this meeting by the family of Ross and Clare Simons, who have been greatly supported by my hon. Friend Chris Skidmorein their own campaign to strengthen the sanctions against dangerous drivers. I am sure that my hon. Friend will speak about that case. I know that Tracey and Hayley are incredibly grateful and touched by the personal interest that the Prime Minister took in both cases.

When we debated the matter previously, many colleagues brought examples from their constituencies, which demonstrates clearly that we need the law to be strengthened. My hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy,who unfortunately cannot be here today due to other commitments, asked me to highlight the case of his young constituent Laura Thomas. Laura, who worked in a school for children with special needs, was killed by a truck when the driver was browsing the internet on his phone. It was a shocking waste of a young life. Laura’s mother, Lisa, and her family certainly want tougher enforcement and tougher penalties in future cases.

I also pay tribute to Greg Mulholland, who unfortunately also cannot be with us today, for launching a big campaign and working extremely hard with the families of victims.

Indeed, he has produced a charter of the sort of changes that they would like to see when it comes to strengthening sentencing.

As I am sure we will hear from the Minister today, a Government review of sentencing for all driving related offences is currently under way. After the aforementioned meeting with the Prime Minister, he wrote, as he had promised, to my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling, the then Justice Secretary, setting out his thoughts following the discussion with Hayley and Tracey. I want to read from part of the Prime Minister’s letter, which mirrors what Hayley and Tracey are asking the review to consider.

The Prime Minister wrote:

“I agreed that the following issues should be considered in depth as part of the review we are carrying out on sentencing for driving-related offences: The maximum sentence length available for causing death by dangerous driving (currently a 14 year sentence); Whether offenders convicted of causing death by dangerous driving should be denied automatic early release from prison at the half-way point in the sentence”.

If such a provision were in place now, we would not be facing the thought of Mr Walter coming out of prison before his 10 years and three months had been served.

To those issues, the Prime Minister added:

“The question of whether sentences should be awarded concurrently or consecutively in cases where a number of people are killed as a result of dangerous driving, whilst recognising that the courts normally determine this issue; The discounts provided for late guilty pleas in these types of cases; The length of the driving ban given to offenders, and the potential for ensuring that no period of their sentence counts towards the driving ban.”

I would be grateful if the Minister, in summing up, confirmed that those suggestions do indeed form part of the review. We would all be grateful if he also set out the timetable for when the review will be published and how long the public consultation process will be. What actions will his Department take to publicise that consultation?

Can the Minister also confirm—this is an incredibly important point—that if the public consultation suggests that constituents up and down the country consider any of the changes to the sentencing regime for dangerous driving proposed in the review to be too lenient, the regime will be strengthened further? We want justice—that is what the 102,000 people who signed the petition want—and I hope that is reflected when the consultation is completed.

Tracey and Hayley have done everything to keep the memory of Kris and John alive. They have held a range of events locally in Reading. Tracey has been nominated for a Pride of Reading award—an award given to those living in Reading who have done exceptional public service. She has been nominated because of the campaigning she has done on changing the law so that the families of future victims get more justice than Kris and John did.

Tracey and Hayley know that none of that will bring back Kris and John—that is something they will have to live with all their lives. However, they do not want the loss of Kris and John to be in vain. They want justice. They want a change in the law so that we are much tougher on those who kill through dangerous driving. I have pledged to them that I will fight by their side for justice for as long as it takes. If we are able to achieve a change in the law, and it is indeed strengthened, it would be fitting if that law was referred to as “John and Kris’s law”. That would be a tribute to the memory of two family men whose tragic deaths led to a national campaign to strengthen sentencing for dangerous driving.