Mum welcomes road law change call

By Richard SmithA CAMPAIGNING mother whose son was killed by a hit-and-run driver welcomed last night a report by MPs calling for tougher sentences for motoring offences.

By Richard Smith

A CAMPAIGNING mother whose son was killed by a hit-and-run driver welcomed last night a report by MPs calling for tougher sentences for motoring offences.

Denise Downing's son Marc, 22, a former pupil of Westbourne High School in Ipswich, was killed while on holiday near Newquay, Cornwall, last year.

Mr Downing was hit by a car driven by Hayley Matthews, 24, from Redruth, as he walked back to a holiday park in the early hours and she fled the scene after the fatal accident.

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She later gave herself up to police and was fined £83 by magistrates in June after pleading guilty to several motoring offences, including failing to stop and failing to report an accident.

Ms Downing was furious with the sentence, branding it an "utter disgrace" and launched a campaign to get the law changed.

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She raised a 3,500-signature petition, which was sent to the Home Secretary David Blunkett, demanding stiffer penalties.

Ms Downing, formerly of Kitchener Road, Ipswich, and now living in Colchester, said last night she welcomed the MPs' report.

"My argument has always been that getting into a car is like handling a lethal weapon and you should get charged the same as if you were getting out a gun or a knife and killed somebody," she added.

"I still feel so angry and let down by the justice system and I feel that this report has come too late. But if it stops somebody getting the hurt and anger that she gave me and my family, then that is something."

Ms Downing said she had been told that because an open verdict had been recorded at the inquest into her son's death, there was an opportunity for her to take legal action against the driver, which she was considering.

The MPs' report urged police forces to take road deaths and injuries "as seriously as they take manslaughter or grievous bodily harm".

The report into traffic law and its enforcement by the House of Commons Transport Committee said changes should include tougher sentences and higher fines for offenders as well as better police enforcement, including more breath tests.

"The Association of Chief Police Officers' road death investigation manual sets out admirable principles which should be applied to cases of serious injury, as well as death," it added.

"But the best manifesto in the world will not produce results unless individual forces and individual police officers take road deaths and injuries as seriously as they take cases of manslaughter or grievous bodily harm. From the evidence we received, it is clear that in many cases they do not."

The report's recommendations include: deaths or serious injuries should not be treated lightly just because they were caused by someone driving a car; charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice should be brought against people who fail to stop after, or fail to report, a serious crash; all cases involving death or serious injury should be heard in crown court and more cases should be brought before juries; and there should be a "radical overhaul" of the penalties available to magistrates to deal with driving-related offences.

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