Campaigners want tougher driving laws

ROAD safety campaigners have called for tougher laws after a judge admitted he was powerless to impose stiffer penalties on a woman driver whose “breathtaking negligence” killed a much-loved father.

ROAD safety campaigners have called for tougher laws after a judge admitted he was powerless to impose stiffer penalties on a woman driver whose “breathtaking negligence” killed a much-loved father.

The Rev Simon Wilson, East Anglia spokesman for campaign group RoadPeace, yesterday branded the legal system “inadequate” and urged any new Government to clamp down on “killer” drivers by introducing a “vehicular manslaughter” law.

His comments came after a district judge told the grieving family of West Mersea man Andy Bush, who was killed last May, that the decision to prosecute a woman for driving without due care and attention - rather than a more severe charge - was “out of his hands”.

Before sentencing Carloe Heddle, from Rowhedge, to pay a £1,000 fine and £70 costs at Colchester Magistrates' Court yesterday, District Judge David Cooper turned to Mr Bush's family and said: “My heart goes out to you.

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“My feelings have been made clear on this, but the Crown Prosecution Service have made their decision on this charge and it is out of my hands.

“My hands are tied by the rules of the Magistrates' Association. So in the fine I'm about to impose, do not go away and say that is all your loved one was worth.”

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Sentencing mother-of-three Heddle, whose Mercedes car had drifted “mysteriously” into the path of Mr Bush's motorbike last spring, he said: “I have to say that you displayed breathtaking negligence at the very least and it had fatal consequences.”

The court heard that Heddle, 52, of Sunbeam Close, had been driving back home along Fingringhoe Road last May 11, after a day taking care of her ill mother-in-law.

Mr Bush, of Windsor Road, West Mersea, was travelling in the opposite direction and had just safely overtaken a skip lorry and returned to his lane, the court was told.

Christopher McAnn, prosecuting, said meanwhile Heddle, who had been on medication for chronic back pain, had drifted on to the wrong side of the road.

Mr Bush, a passionate bird watcher and father-of-three, tried to avoid the Mercedes, but he was declared dead at the scene.

Mr McAnn added: “(Heddle) told police she thought she had blacked out and doesn't remember the accident.”

Marc Cannattella, mitigating, said: “She simply does not know how or why she drifted to the other side of the road.

“She had been on medication, but had not taken it that morning. It had been a very stressful time in her life.

“She was caring for her mother-in-law and was going back home to be with her 22-year-old daughter who was two weeks away from giving birth.

“She is an upstanding member of the community.”

Heddle, who admitted driving without due care and attention, was also disqualified from driving for a year after which she must also retake her test.

After the hearing, RoadPeace spokesman Mr Wilson said: “Having a loved one killed in a road crash is bad enough.

“The inadequacies of the legal system to properly punish those responsible add to those feelings of anger, pain and powerlessness.

“The law needs to take account of the injuries suffered in a road crash.”

Last night, Denise Downing, from Colchester whose Ipswich son, Marc, 22, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Cornwall in August 2003, added her voice to the RoadPeace campaign.

She said although the £1,000 fine imposed on Heddle was £920 more than the £83 fine handed to hit-and-run driver Hayley Matthews, it was still a “disgrace”.

“The law is an insult to lives of innocent victims,” she added.

The Home Office launched a consultation on tougher laws in February with responses due back by May 6.

Proposals included a new offence of causing death by careless driving carrying a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment and a requirement for courts to take into account serious injuries.

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