Anger at hit-and-run death penalty

A GRIEVING mother pledged last night to take further legal action against a hit-and-run driver who was fined £83 for offences relating to the death of her son.

A GRIEVING mother pledged last night to take further legal action against a hit-and-run driver who was fined £83 for offences relating to the death of her son.

Denise Downing, from Ipswich, said she thought the sentence delivered against unemployed Hayley Matthews, who struck her son Marc on a Cornish road last summer, was an "utter disgrace".

After being told of the sentence at East Cornwall Magistrates' Court yesterday, Mrs Downing asked: "Is this the value the court puts on my son's life - less than £4 for every one of his 22 years?"

"I think it's an utter disgrace, a diabolical insult and a humiliation. This woman didn't even get fined for having defective tyres – where's the justice in it all?

"The total of her fines is even less than annual road tax," said Mrs Downing, of Kitchener Road.

"I'm not going to let this drop. We'll look for a case in the civil courts and we urge the Home Secretary to toughen up the law.

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"There should at least be custodial sentences in cases like this."

Magistrates in Bodmin yesterday heard how Matthews sped off after colliding with Mr Downing on an unlit road near Newquay, leaving others to go to his aid.

The court heard how she was driving towards Redruth around 4am on August 30 last year when she struck Mr Downing as he was returning to a holiday park near Newquay.

That road had no pavement or lighting. Mr Downing was standing in the road when struck by Matthews. Her damaged car was later found abandoned three miles up the road.

Despite desperate attempts by members of the public and paramedics to save the Ipswich builder, he died from multiple injuries in hospital.

East Cornwall magistrates banned Matthews, of Green Lane, Redruth, from driving for two years and fined her £83.34 for six motoring offences.

Matthews pleaded guilty to failing to stop and report an accident, having two defective tyres, no excise licence and no insurance.

She was fined £40 for failing to stop and report an accident, £25 for having no insurance and £18.34 for having no excise licence. No fines were imposed for her defective tyres.

A police search of her home in Redruth led to the discovery of amphetamine and ecstasy, which Matthews admitted possessing.

A blood test cleared her of being under the influence of the drugs at the time of the accident, and those drugs offences had already been dealt with by another court, magistrates heard yesterday. 

She had suffered shock and distress as a result of the accident involving Mr Downing and had not driven since the tragedy.

Her solicitor Jeremy Leaning said: "First and foremost we have regard for the family and friends of Mr Downing.

"We respectfully acknowledge their sense of loss and their sense of grief and nothing that happens in court today will put right those feelings.

"It's a tragedy too for Miss Matthews, in her mind she is responsible for the death of Mr Downing. She has struggled to come to terms with what happened on that evening and now eight or nine months later her sense of shock is still there."

Chairman of the bench, David Stevens, told Matthews: "It has been a very emotional case for you and we accept that you have already suffered emotional upset.

"An inquest has said this was not your fault, but there was a sense of irresponsible behaviour on your part and we must take that into account."

Deputy Cornwall coroner Edward Carlyon recorded an open verdict when an inquest into Mr Downing's death was held at Truro a fortnight ago.

However, Brigitte Chaudhry, founder of road crash victim support group Roadpeace, said last night: "What we have here is a woman who knew that she'd hit someone yet she failed to stop, failed to call any medical assistance and left a young man dying in the road.

"It was a cowardly and criminal act. Just when are the courts going to get tougher? We are all potential victims of hit and run drivers.

"There's no deterrent in either verbal message delivered by the magistrates nor in the sentence. They need to show just how serious these acts are. A fine of £83 is a joke."

Nobody from Devon and Cornwall CPS could be contacted for comment, but a Home Office spokesman said the Government could soon change the law surrounding road offences.

He said: "The Halliday review is looking into how at the structure of prosecutions and penalties surrounding serious road offences, particularly where there is a death.

"I'm sure that this case will feed into that review."

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