Dangerous Driving — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:09 pm on 8th July 2019.

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Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:09 pm, 8th July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairwomanship, Mrs Moon.

First, I want to express my heartfelt sympathy to the family of Violet-Grace—and, indeed, to all the families with us today. No parent should have to endure what they have endured. It is to their credit that they created this very successful petition to try to get some justice for families who have lost loved ones to death by dangerous driving and for those who have endured serious and life-changing injuries.

Sadly, Violet-Grace’s story and the bereaved family’s pain and sense of injustice are all too familiar to me. In 2014, my constituent Joseph Brown-Lartey was killed by a dangerous driver. Joseph was just 25 years old, with a promising career opening up ahead of him, yet his plans and his life were destroyed by an uninsured, unlicensed 18-year-old named Addil Haroon, who chose to drive a hired high-powered car at 80 mph in a 30 mph zone, ran a red light and smashed into Joseph’s car. The impact was so great that Joseph’s car was split in two and, tragically, Joseph was killed outright. Police officers who attended the scene said it was the worst crash they had ever seen on an urban street.

Addil Haroon was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving but was given a jail sentence of just six years, of which he will serve just three in custody: he will be released on licence after serving half his sentence. Joseph’s parents, Dawn and Ian Brown-Lartey, contacted me for help after that derisory sentence was given. I wrote to the Attorney General asking for the sentence to be reconsidered in view of the gravity and tragic consequences of the crime. The reply I received was that the judge had acted within sentencing guidelines, and that the sentence had not been “unduly lenient” and would not be reconsidered. As we heard, the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years, yet few convictions result in a sentence that long. In 2017, the average sentence was just four years and nine months.

Joseph’s parents, with the help of the road safety charity Brake and campaigning journalist Michelle Livesey, launched a petition and a campaign called “Justice for Joseph”, calling for tougher sentences for those who cause death and serious injury by dangerous driving. The petition gathered 20,000 signatures and was handed into Downing Street with support from me and the then police and crime commissioner for Greater Manchester, who is now my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd.

Brake then launched another campaign, “Roads to Justice”. For the launch of that campaign, Joseph’s parents allowed the wreckage of his car to be displayed outside Parliament. Hon. Members may recall seeing the shocking sight of a wrecked Audi split clean in two on their journey into work that day. That wreckage is now used by Greater Manchester police as part of its road safety campaigning and teaching, having been kindly donated by Joseph’s family in the hope that it would serve as a lesson to other drivers.

In response to that pressure—sadly, many other MPs have had similar tragedies in their constituencies—the Government held a consultation on sentencing for causing death and serious injury by dangerous driving. They received around 9,000 responses. It took many months to process them all, but everyone involved in the campaign was delighted when the Ministry of Justice announced in October 2017 that, as a result of the consultation, the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving would be extended from 14 years to life.

Joseph’s parents felt that all their campaigning had paid off and, although nothing could bring Joseph back or bring justice in his case, at least another family bereaved in such terrible circumstances would not suffer the heartache of seeing their loved one’s killer receive a derisory sentence. Yet what has happened since then? Although I and other MPs have asked numerous questions in the House, the Government’s constant refrain has been that they will bring legislation to the House “when parliamentary time allows”. This Government have presided over hours of parliamentary inaction, with sessions closing early and the business of the day being wound up mid-afternoon on numerous occasions. There has been ample parliamentary time to bring legislation forward, yet nothing has happened. The change was promised in October 2017. Twenty-one months on, nothing has changed.

The tragedy is that we are still seeing deaths, such as that of poor Violet-Grace, as some drivers simply do not get the message that, in the wrong hands, a car is a lethal weapon. I strongly believe that longer sentences would reinforce that message. At the moment, some drivers have an extremely careless approach and drive in an extremely reckless manner because they know that if they cause an accident that kills or maims they will serve only a relatively short sentence. That has to change. Families such as the Brown-Larteys in my constituency and the Youens in the constituency of my hon. Friend Ms Rimmer need to see justice being done.

If I have one question for the Minister, it is this: when is the maximum sentence of life for causing death by dangerous driving, which the Government announced 21 months ago, going to be brought to Parliament? The response “When parliamentary time allows,” is simply not good enough. These families need to see justice—for Joseph, for Violet-Grace and for all the other victims killed or maimed on our roads by the scourge of dangerous driving. It is time that the punishment fitted the crime.