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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:47 pm on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Conservative, Kingswood 3:47 pm, 17th September 2015

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank my hon. Friend Alok Sharma for going to the Backbench Business Committee and the Committee itself for giving us this time today. The fact that we have Members from all parties here shows the strength of feeling involved, which goes beyond party politics. Members can be from

Labour, the SNP, the Conservatives, or the Liberal Democrats and still passionately know that a grave sense of injustice remains in the judicial process and the sentencing process that currently applies to dangerous driving.

As local Members of Parliament, we all know that nothing is more tragic or terrible than when constituents come to us with such awful cases. We know that we must act, because our constituents do not have that voice to be able to raise these issues in Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading West has, superbly, voiced this issue continually over the past year, and we have gone to meetings with the Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary in order to keep ensuring that this issue is raised at the highest level. We are having this debate today to make sure that we carry on raising it, and we will continue to do so if no action is taken.

As the Member of Parliament for Kingswood, I very clearly remember the day of Sunday 27 January 2013. I looked on the internet and saw, on BBC News, that there had been an incident involving Ross and Clare Simons, two of my constituents, who were riding a tandem bike down Lower Hanham Road when they were hit by a dangerous driver, who was actually disqualified at the time. I am not afraid to name him—Nicholas Lovell. He had 70 previous convictions, many for dangerous driving, and had been disqualified four times previously, yet he was able to get in a car, despite being disqualified, and drive at 70 miles an hour in a 30-mile-an-hour zone and knock Ross and Clare off that tandem bike. The pictures that were recently published in the Daily Mail were absolutely horrific. Edwin, Ross’s father, had the courage to release those photos, showing the impact that the tandem bike had on Lovell’s car. It was wedged straight through the grille and into the engine, such was the velocity of that impact.

Lovell fled the scene. He was eventually arrested and we went through the trial process. I pledged, as the Member of Parliament, that I would do all I could to bring justice to the case of Ross and Clare, because they did not get justice in that court case. The maximum sentence of 14 years—it had gone up to 14 years—was applied for the first time in the case of Nicholas Lovell. Because he pleaded guilty in the last week of the trial, that went down to 10 years and six months and, because the sentences were served concurrently instead of consecutively, Lovell was serving the two sentences back to back and, due to good behaviour, may be out within five to six years. The family of Ross and Clare Simons, including Edwin, Dawn, Colin, Kelly Woodruff, Ross’s sister, and his nephew, Callum Woodruff, feel that it is in effect two lives for the price of one.

I understand that there are reasons for the concurrency law taking effect, but two lives were lost. In a tragically similar case a year later, nothing changed. In the case of John and Kris, two lives were lost, yet the same penalty was applied, and the judge in the court case said that if he had been given the chance by the judicial system to impose a tougher penalty, he would have done so, but he had to give the maximum sentence that he could at the time—14 years.

In the previous Parliament, as the local Member of Parliament, I campaigned on the issue of disqualified driving. Because Lovell was disqualified, he should never have been in the car in the first place. That was automatically an act of dangerous driving, because of his being disqualified. Previously, it was only a two-year sentence if someone was disqualified and killed someone; it has now gone up to 10 years. We had a petition, which was signed by 18,000 residents in my local area, and we took that to Downing Street. That shows that the law can be changed. This is not an isolated example. We can go further.

I am determined to work with all hon. Members, but particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West, in pushing for a change in the maximum sentence. My hon. Friend Craig Tracey made the point very clearly. A person could take any other weapon and kill someone and they would get life. If they get in a car, they will get 14 years. Where is the justice in that? That, for me, is the tenet of this debate: we need to look at the maximum sentence. I understand from having had several meetings with the previous Justice Secretary that the Justice Secretary has the executive power to raise the maximum sentence. That is isolated from whatever happens with the Sentencing Council. I realise that there has been a significant and unhelpful delay in the Sentencing Council reporting back, but the Justice Secretary can take action now, and that action now is what we are demanding as local MPs.

So many families across the whole country are suffering now. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West said, they are serving their own life sentences. We see the justice system throw back at them this insult that someone can kill their relative, get just a couple of years in prison and end up back on the streets and, potentially, back in a car. That is just too horrendous to imagine.

I speak today as the Member for Kingswood, on behalf of my constituents. I cannot imagine what it must be like for families to deal with this day in, day out. I therefore urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take this matter back to the Ministry of Justice. We have the Prime Minister on our side; we met him in March. The previous Justice Secretary came down to the site and stood in front of where we had marked what had happened and paid tribute to Ross and Clare Simons, who were killed. He did an excellent job. We now need to see that that work is followed through in the Department, that it is taken seriously and that our demands are met.