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Revealed: One in six killer drivers walk free in region

By Mark Andrews | In-depth | Published:

New figures suggest that few people who are convicted of causing deaths by dangerous driving are receiving substantial sentences.

Firefighters at a simulation of a road accident to raise awareness of drink driving

One in six motorists who kill people by driving dangerously in West Mercia walk free from court, new figures reveal.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that courts in the force area give some of the lightest sentences in the West Midlands for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving.

Of the 45 drivers in the force area convicted of the offence, eight received non-custodial sentences. Of those who did receive jail sentences, the most common sentences handed down were those of two to three years. This compares to sentences of five to seven years in the neighbouring West Midlands force area.

The shortest jail sentence imposed by courts in the force area was 12 months, which means that the prisoner would be released after six months, spending the rest on licence.

Opinion:

Nobody in the force area received a sentence of more than five years over the time period, from 2008 to 2018. In Dyfed-Powys the sentences were even shorter, although all 13 people convicted of the offence were given immediate jail terms.

Olivia-Violet Reeves

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Simon Reeves, whose niece Olivia-Violet Reeves was killed in Shrewsbury by a Range Rover driven by Roger Goodall in 2017, says sentences were far too lenient.

Harriet Barnsley was looking forward to a hen night as she stood at the bus stop with her life-long friend Rebecca McManus.

The next thing she remembers is waking up in hospital with multiple injuries.

Harriet Barnsley

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“I didn’t understand what had happened," says Harriet, now 25, from Bearwood.

"I remember asking mum what was wrong with me. I thought I had done something to cause it to myself.”

Rebecca McManus

It is five years since Harriet and Rebecca were hit by a car travelling at 101mph in a 40mph zone. Harriet is still receiving physiotherapy for the injuries she sustained, but Rebecca was not so lucky – the 21-year-old died from her injuries at the scene.

Sukvinder Mannan

The driver of the car, Sukvinder Mannan, of Roundhills Road, Halesowen, had been racing another driver. He was jailed for eight years after admitting causing death and injury by dangerous driving. But for many who cause misery by their reckless behaviour on the road, the sentences can be much less severe.

Last year the Government pledged to introduce life sentences for drivers who cause death by speeding, racing or using a mobile phone. A lack of parliamentary time means the law has yet to be implemented, although the courts do have the power to hand out sentences of up to 14 years for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving.

However the sentences handed down in the West Midlands and Mid Wales over the past decade show that these powers are rarely, if ever, used.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that from 2008 to 2018, 14 killer drivers across the West Mercia, West Midlands and Staffordshire force areas walked free from court after being convicted.

They include uninsured driver Jake Nelson, of Hales Road, Wednesbury, who received a suspended sentence for hitting 39-year-old Neil Perry as he crossed a road in West Bromwich last year.

Geographical variations

The figures also reveal huge geographical variations in the length of sentences handed down. Courts in the West Midlands force area tend to hand down the most severe sentences in the region, typically jailing offenders from five to seven years. However, just over the border in Dyfed–Powys, the courts appear to take a much more lenient view, with the most common sentence for causing death by dangerous driving being 18-24 months. In reality, most offenders will serve half of this sentence, meaning they walk free within a year.

In West Mercia the sentences are also relatively lenient at two to three years, while in Staffordshire offenders are most likely to get four years.

A total of 213 people were convicted of causing death by dangerous driving across the four force areas during the 10-year period.

Of these, 117 were in the West Midlands force area, and 112 were sent straight to prison, although none received a sentence of more than 10 years. Nineteen offenders received jail terms of between seven and 10 years, but the most common sentence was five to seven years, accounting for 36 cases. At the other end of the scale, two received suspended sentences, and another was given a community punishment order which could mean a training programme or unpaid work.

The West Mercia force area, which covers Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire, saw 45 people convicted for the offence over the period, with 37 of these being sent to jail. Of the remainder, seven received suspended sentence – and one was let off with just a fine.

The most severe sentences in West Mercia were between seven and 10 years, which were handed out to two offenders, while the shortest sentence was 12 months.

Roger Goodall drove his Range Rover into 11-year-old Olivia-Violet Reeves after swigging from a bottle of wine

Olivia-Violet Reeves, aged 11, died in the arms of her mother after being hit by a Range Rover driven by Roger Goodall in Shrewsbury, in 2017. The court heard that Goodall, now 79, had been swigging from a bottle of wine in his car shortly before driving into Olivia-Violet as she was walking to get the bus home from school.

Goodall, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison, and is due for release in December. Olivia-Violet's uncle, Simon Reeves, says the sentence was a disgrace and says the family suffers from the ordeal daily.

"The court system doesn't care about the victim, it's all about human rights," says Mr Reeves. "It's all about political correctness, they are all liberal left."

The Reeves family had sought to get the sentence increased, but was told there were no grounds for appeal.

"It's murder," says Mr Reeves. "If I'm walking down the street and stick a knife in your belly, are they going to do me for murder, or are they going to do me for something else because I was just messing about? They are going to do me for murder."

Parole

In Staffordshire, there were 38 convictions for the offence, with 34 receiving an immediate jail term. Of these, seven received a sentence of four years – the most common term, and one received a sentence in excess of 10 years. At the other end of the scale, two received suspended sentences and one a community punishment.

While all off 13 motorists convicted of causing death by dangerous driving in the Dyfed-Powys force area, the sentences tended to be much shorter. The most common sentences were 18-24 months, which were handed to five offenders, while the most lenient was between six and 12 months.

Prisoners who are sentenced to less than four years are automatically released after half of their sentence, while those with longer sentences may be eligible for release if they apply for parole.

The average sentence for causing death by dangerous driving in England and Wales during 2018 was 64 months, according to RoadPeace, which campaigns on behalf of crash victims.

A spokeswoman says many cases that start out as dangerous driving end up as causing death by careless driving, which carry much more lenient sentences.

"Too often bereaved families have their suffering aggravated by the complacency in our justice system," she says.

"Lenient sentences and paltry compensation settlements leave families feeling like the death of their loved one meant little to society and the public."

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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