Our criminal justice system has failed Hope, failed her family and failed to treat danger on the road seriously.
And as a result the memory of a dead child has been insulted, a family has been denied justice, and wider society has been put at risk from a dangerous driver.
Darren Foster had been speeding and texting (at least 16 texts) for over 20 minutes as he drove across Birmingham during rush hour on 7 November 2011. At a pedestrian crossing, he ran over and crushed 13 year old Hope Fennell as she crossed Kings Heath High Street, on her way home from school. As Hope lay dying under his lorry, the life literally being crushed out of her, Darren Foster climbed back into the cab and deleted 11 text messages. He cared more about saving his skin than Hope’s life, just as he prioritised a text-conversation with his girlfriend over the safety of others.
On the 6th September 2013 he was given a two month custodial sentence for dangerous driving, and a further four months for attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The sentencing occurred almost 22 months after the fatal crash. Proceedings had been delayed as Foster sought to change his plea, stating that he had been pressurised into pleading guilty. As he had already admitted texting whilst driving a lorry, there was little sympathy for this ploy, but the court had to respect his right to a fair trial.
No such consideration was shown to Hope’s mother Nazan. She was often informed at the last minute of court hearings. She did not know if her daughter’s death would be mentioned in court, or if she would be able to read out her victim personal statement. She says it’s as if she has had to fight for every scrap of information about her daughters’ death.
Even last week on the day that he was sentenced, Hope’s family had been told that the hearing was to do with Foster’s plea vacation attempt. But he changed his mind again and the judge decided to sentence him on that same day. And although Foster was sent to jail, it was for a short time (75% of dangerous driving custodial sentences are given for longer periods). His driving ban was for the minimum period of one year.
Nazan has described her experience of the criminal justice system and in particular the courts, as worse than the collision itself. The process left her feeling like a bystander in her daughter’s death, rather than the bereaved mother:
‘Like the song ‘Killing me softly’, each snippet of information destroys me again and I feel like I am lying under the lorry with Hope, dying slowly with her’
The criminal justice system did not find Darren Foster responsible for Hope’s death, despite the speeding and protracted texting (evidenced by his tachograph and phone records). Instead the ‘blindspot excuse’ came into play. Only Darren Foster knows if he was still distracted while he waited at the pedestrian crossing, too busy looking at his phone instead of his surroundings….
What we do know is that Hope never stood a chance against a lorry with a blindspot and a dangerous distracted driver.
Hope’s would have been 15 this week. Instead of celebrating her birthday, her family are mourning her death. Nazan with the support of her local community is organising a Ride for Hope on Saturday, 21 September. Cyclists, pedestrians, family, friends and the local community are calling to reduce the danger from lorries on the High Street, so that no families have to suffer as they have.
Our transport system should not allow lorries to “share the road” with those it cannot see. And our justice system should not allow dangerous drivers back on the road so quickly, if ever.
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