Dangerous Driving — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 8th July 2019.

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Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Chair, Petitions Committee 4:30 pm, 8th July 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered e-petition 236952 relating to dangerous driving.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mrs Moon. The petition calls for life sentences for causing death by dangerous driving.

To lose a child is the worst thing that most of us could imagine. To lose a child at the age of only four, mown down by a speeding driver, is something we do not even wish to imagine. Yet that is what happened to Mr and Mrs Youens, who started the petition. To listen to their story is to step into a world of horror. To hear about parents called to a hospital knowing that something must be dreadfully wrong; to see their child grievously injured; to have to follow the ambulance transferring her to Alder Hey, unable to go into that ambulance because the doctors were still working to keep her alive; and to hear their story of lying with their daughter until she died is something for which I do not have the words to describe. I cannot even pretend to plumb the depths of their grief, but I do congratulate them on their courage and tenacity in wanting something good to come out of that grief. They began that process when they allowed some of Violet’s organs to be donated after her death to save other lives. Many of her organs could not be used because her injuries were so severe. Her parents have continued the process with the petition because, as they rightly say, they do not want anyone else to suffer.

Violet-Grace was with her grandmother when a car doing 83 mph in a 30 mph zone mounted the pavement. The car was stolen and had false numberplates. Violet suffered catastrophic injuries and died later. Her grandmother suffered life-changing injuries. The driver and his passenger did not even attempt to help, and they fled the scene. There is evidence that they had to step over the bodies of their victims lying in the road to get out of the car. The driver, Aidan McAteer, fled to Amsterdam to clear his head, as he said later, and smoke some weed. Clearly, he thought it was all about him. Eventually, he returned to this country and was tried and sentenced to nine years and four months. His passenger got six years and eight months. Neither showed any remorse, either at the time or later. In fact, they had their sentences increased while in jail for having illegal mobile phones and posting on social media. That does not seem much for a young life so cruelly taken and other lives destroyed in the process. As Mr and Mrs Youens said to me, the driver and his passenger will be out after serving less time than Violet-Grace lived.

The law does not cope well with such offences. It leaves families believing they have not had justice and the public looking on in amazement at what seem to be unduly lenient sentences. I met some of the families today and heard their stories. They told me that they felt they were treated as though they were the criminals. They were not allowed to show emotion in court and were sometimes told not to sit in the court. They were not allowed to read out all their victim statement in case it upset the perpetrator. They sometimes felt that they were the ones on trial. These cases are not unique. There are a lot of them, and our justice system is simply not working for these people.

I have other examples. In February this year, a driver was sentenced for causing the death of a pedestrian and catastrophic damage to a house when he was driving at twice the legal speed limit. He was a lorry driver—a professional—and he got 10 years and six months. In March, Antonio Boparan was sentenced for causing the death of Cerys Edwards. She was only 11 months old when he hit her in 2008 and she was held to have died later from complications arising from her injuries. He got 18 months, having previously served 21 months for dangerous driving. Families have told me this afternoon of seeing people cheer in court because their sentence was so light and of people who did not go to jail at all. That matters for confidence in our justice system.

It is a long time since I practised law, and I know, from being around the courts, it is very difficult to make judgments on cases unless you have heard all the evidence, but I believe that in the most serious cases we ought to have life sentences available. As Mr Youens said to me, in the wrong hands a car is a lethal weapon.