Tougher punishments for killer drivers

By Mark HeathA MOTHER whose son was killed by a hit-and-run driver has backed a Police Federation call for greater punishments to be handed down to motorists who kill.

By Mark Heath

A MOTHER whose son was killed by a hit-and-run driver has backed a Police Federation call for greater punishments to be handed down to motorists who kill.

Denise Downing was speaking after Police Federation chairman Jan Berry accused the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of charging killer drivers with lesser offences to ensure they got convictions.

Ms Berry claimed that the CPS was judged on the number of cases it successfully prosecuted, and so had a “tendency” to charge motorists who caused fatal road accidents with offences that were easier to prove.

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“If the circumstances warrant a more serious case they (the CPS) very often charge the lesser offence, which is more likely to be successful in prosecution,” she said.

“Police officers find that very frustrating because they don't think the charge fits the circumstances, and they are also the people who have to face the victims of the offences and have to try to explain to them why a lesser offence has been charged.”

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Ms Downing, whose eldest son Marc, from Ipswich, was killed in Cornwall in August 2003, said minor charges for killer drivers were an “insult.”

Hayley Matthews, the driver behind the wheel of the car that killed Marc, was fined just £83 and banned for two years after admitting a range of minor motoring offences.

Ms Downing, who has moved from Ipswich to Colchester since Marc's death, said: “I feel very strongly about this. It must be looked at - it's very important.

“She hit him, she killed him and she drove off - and she admitted it. To get a fine of £83 is an absolute insult.

“It angers me so much that innocent people are getting killed on the roads and people are getting away with it. The hurt that it brings is unbelievable.”

In the wake of Marc's death, Ms Downing collected more than 2,500 signatures on a petition calling for tougher sentences to be imposed on hit-and-run drivers, which she sent to the Home Office.

She added: “It's something that I'm going to carry on campaigning for. If anybody takes a life they should pay for it and that's not happening.

“What's the difference between getting in a car and taking somebody's life to going out and shooting someone dead?

“If I went out and stabbed someone to death, I'd be up for murder or manslaughter, but it just doesn't happen with drivers who kill.”

Zoe Stow, chairman of RoadPeace, a charity dedicated to supporting bereaved and injured road crash victims, agreed with Ms Berry's assessment of the CPS.

She said: “If someone is killed on the roads at the moment, the most likely offence is driving without due care and attention.

“This is a magistrates' court offence, which carries a penalty of a disqualification and a fine. Causing death by dangerous driving carries a maximum of 14 years in jail.

“There is a massive gap between these two charges. It is the difference between a long prison sentence and a slap on the wrists.

“There is widespread acknowledgement that the law is not right. We do not take death and injury on the roads seriously enough.”

But a spokeswoman for the CPS denied the accusations and said: “That is not the case - our objective is not to get a conviction at all costs, it is to make sure the charge reflects the facts of the case.

“It is the nature of the driving, rather than the outcome, which determines what the charge is. We look at each case individually, we look at what the evidence is and we decide on the appropriate charge.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said it was currently reviewing driving offences and expected to publish a consultation paper at “the earliest opportunity”.

“The review aims to ensure that these crimes are dealt with in a way that adequately reflects their gravity and the recognition of the risks associated with bad driving by those responsible,” she added.

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