Jail killer texting drivers for life? Our courts are too impotent to do it, writes DOMINIC LAWSON

Jail killer texting drivers for life? Our courts are too impotent to do it, writes DOMINIC LAWSON


Jail killer texting drivers for life? Our courts are too impotent to do it, writes DOMINIC LAWSON

Dominic Lawson for the Daily Mail

Danny Warby, who in September was found guilty of causing the death of Detective Constable Sharon Garrett by dangerous driving

Danny Warby, who in September was found guilty of causing the death of Detective Constable Sharon Garrett by dangerous driving

When a government is trying to get the maximum publicity for what it thinks is a vote-winning wheeze, it is traditional to float the idea in the Sunday press.

Thus it was that yesterday’s papers all carried accounts of a briefing by the Justice Minister Sam Gyimah, who had told them that ‘killer drivers’ would in future face the prospect of life imprisonment. 

Gyimah’s press release declared: ‘My message is clear: if you drive dangerously and kill on our roads, you could face a life sentence.’

I’m sure the minister is right that this is what the overwhelming majority of voters want to hear. 

The Mail has been campaigning hard for more action to be taken against those who use mobile phones while driving.

After the paper launched its campaign, ministers announced plans to double the punishment for using a phone at the wheel, from three penalty points to six, meaning drivers would lose their licences after two such offences.

This is a reaction to a growing problem across the world, not just in Britain — a reflection of the extent to which people pay more and more attention to what is on their smartphone and less and less (if any) to their immediate physical surroundings.

The scene of a crash which killed father-of-two Ion Calin, 42, of Shirley, Southampton and Marian Olteanu, 35, both from Romania, as lorry driver Keith Mees, 49, from Swanlincote in Derbyshire, has been jailed for six years at Southampton Crown Court

The scene of a crash which killed father-of-two Ion Calin, 42, of Shirley, Southampton and Marian Olteanu, 35, both from Romania, as lorry driver Keith Mees, 49, from Swanlincote in Derbyshire, has been jailed for six years at Southampton Crown Court

This ubiquitous gadget is an especial menace when in the hands of HGV drivers, who spend most of their day on the roads — and whose huge lorries have immense destructive power when out of control: remember how an Islamist terrorist slaughtered 84 people in Nice by using his 19-tonne cargo truck as a weapon.

Only last Friday, a lorry driver called Keith Mees was sentenced for killing two men by smashing his 38-tonne HGV into the back of their car.

Mees had been spending 14 minutes on a phone call to tell his girlfriend he was dumping her, and then immediately before impact started browsing Facebook to send messages to an ex-partner with whom he wanted to rekindle a relationship.

Mees had previously been banned for drink-driving. 

His immediate reaction when told at the crash site that the occupants of the car he hit were dead was: ‘For f***’s sake, I’ve only had my [HGV] licence for a few weeks.’

Only last Friday, a lorry driver called Keith Mees was sentenced for killing two men by smashing his 38-tonne HGV into the back of their car

Only last Friday, a lorry driver called Keith Mees was sentenced for killing two men by smashing his 38-tonne HGV into the back of their car

Now, bear in mind that in 2004 Parliament had increased the maximum penalty for death by dangerous driving from ten to 14 years. 

It would be hard to think of a more disturbing case than that of Keith Mees.

Yet he was sentenced to . . . six years. 

Admittedly, the judge is required to reduce the sentence he gives by up to one third in the event of a guilty plea, and Mees had at least done this. 

But even allowing for that, his sentence was far below the maximum he could have received.

Or take the case of a lorry driver called Danny Warby, who in September was found guilty of causing the death of Detective Constable Sharon Garrett by dangerous driving. 

Warby had opened a text message moments before his 13.6-tonne truck crashed into the off-duty police officer’s car — and at a speed substantially in excess of the limit on that stretch of the A141.

Warby had numerous previous convictions — including using a mobile phone while driving. 

Unlike Mees, Warby did not plead guilty, so there was a full two-week trial. At its conclusion, the judge told Warby it was clear he had not ‘learned anything from his previous court appearances’ and sentenced him . . . to six years. 

In other words, less than half the maximum.

A few years ago, the Conservative MP Stephen Barclay uncovered figures which showed just how remote a possibility it was that a ‘killer driver’ would receive the maximum sentence of 14 years. 

In fact, none did. 

In the year for which the MP was given figures by the government, 408 people were convicted of causing death or injury while driving dangerously, or under the influence of drugs or drink, or with a stolen car. 

Only 255 of those were given a prison sentence, of which a mere 37 got terms of more than five years. In 2015, the average sentence for causing death by careless or dangerous driving was just under four years.

So my question to Justice Minister Sam Gyimah is this: given that it is vanishingly rare, if not unknown, for the most dangerous and callous killer drivers to receive the current maximum sentence of 14 years, just how likely is it that any judge will hand down a life sentence?

It is in any case premature for Mr Gyimah to declare in yesterday’s papers that: ‘If you drive dangerously and kill on our roads, you could face a life sentence.’ 

This is not yet a law he has set out, but ‘a consultation’ that will last until February, after which the Government will decide how to proceed.

You might well ask why judges don’t take full advantage of the powers they already have to give long sentences to those who kill on the roads.

For the answer, look no further than the very first edict in the Compendium of Sentencing Guidelines, which judges must follow. 

It declares: ‘In view of the dangerous overcrowding of prisons, where a sentence of imprisonment is necessary, it should be as short as possible, consistent with public protection.’

Keith Mees, aged 49 years, admitted two counts of dangerous driving and one count of causing serious injury by dangerous driving

Keith Mees, aged 49 years, admitted two counts of dangerous driving and one count of causing serious injury by dangerous driving

That guideline dates from 1980 . . . and the wording has not once been changed in the intervening 36 years. 

Our prisons are as crowded as ever, and so judges are still under the same pressure to minimise the sentences they hand down — and indeed, not to give custodial sentences at all.

This long-standing concern about the pressure on the prison estate also explains why those who commit all but the most dreadful crimes are automatically released on parole after serving just half their sentences. 

So both those killer lorry-drivers, Mees and Warby, will actually be out after serving just three years’ imprisonment.

Come to that, life imprisonment — except in the extraordinarily rare cases when judges hand down a ‘full-life’ sentence — doesn’t mean what it says either. 

As a rule, those given life sentences have their first parole hearing after 15 years.

In other words, our entire system of sentencing is a charade to fool the public. Mr Gyimah’s PR coup at the weekend is entirely consistent with this. 

THE ‘REMAIN’ VOTE IN RICHMOND WENT DOWN!

There is one statistic that those unreconciled to the EU referendum result quote day in, day out. 

They endlessly argue that although the Leave campaign won by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, the 17 million-plus votes accumulated by the Brexiteers was ‘really a minority’.

This, they continue to insist, is because — with a turnout of around 72 per cent — Leave persuaded ‘just’ 37.5 per cent of the total electorate.

It is a desperate case, not least in its self-deluding assumption that all those who stayed at home were mute Remainers.

The complaint that the referendum should have required an absolute majority for Brexit would have some credibility if they had made it before the vote: but, of course, the Remain side didn’t, as they thought they would win on the terms set out in the Referendum Bill.

Now, however, they are indeed claiming victory, following the success of Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney in the Richmond Park by-election called (idiotically) by the losing candidate and former MP for the seat, Zac Goldsmith

Now, however, they are indeed claiming victory, following the success of Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney in the Richmond Park by-election called (idiotically) by the losing candidate and former MP for the seat, Zac Goldsmith

Now, however, they are indeed claiming victory, following the success of Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney in the Richmond Park by-election called (idiotically) by the losing candidate and former MP for the seat, Zac Goldsmith.

Olney won the seat — well done her. But now look: the reliably over-the-top spokesman of the defeated Tory Remain faction, Anna Soubry (below) has chirruped that this means ‘You can forget hard Brexit’. 

It is true that Olney campaigned on a platform of rejecting the referendum outcome and voting, as an MP, against invoking Article 50 — the route to Britain’s secession from the 28-nation body.

But if we were to adopt the Remoaners’ spurious post-referendum argument, we could point out that Olney’s winning total of 20,510 votes was less than 50 per cent of those cast, and a mere 26.58 per cent of the total Richmond Park electorate. 

Indeed, given that Richmond was one of the country’s most pro-Remain constituencies, with only about 30 per cent of voters choosing Leave, I could argue that the by-election saw a dramatic rise in the ‘Leave’ vote — since the vehemently pro-Brexit Goldsmith managed to get over 45 per cent of voters last Thursday.

The truth, however, is that the Richmond Park by-election was a vote on who should represent the constituency as MP.

It was not a vote on Brexit. That happened on June 23. It was massive, it was fair, and its message was clear — however much sore losers try to pretend otherwise.

 

Published at Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:37:32 +0000