By Rebecca Morris, Head of Communications, RoadPeace
At a glance, the cases of Elle Edwards and Frankie Julia Hough share many similarities – the lives of two innocent women, taken in an instant by reckless, dangerous men, wielding lethal weapons in public places.
Both women, through no fault of their own, were in the wrong place at the wrong time; killed within months of each other. And their killers – both men in their early 20s, were sentenced for their crimes this month.
But that is where the similarities end. Because their killers chose to use different lethal weapons – one fired a submachine gun and one drove a two-tonne vehicle at high speeds – the sentences they received for their despicable actions were poles apart.
Quite rightly, Elle’s killer, Connor Chapman, was handed a life sentence on July 7 for her murder. He opened fire outside a pub in Merseyside on Christmas Eve last year, killing Elle (26) and injuring five other people. Chapman will serve a minimum of 48 years behind bars.
Frankie, who was 17 weeks pregnant, was driving on the M66 in Greater Manchester on May 13, with her two sons and nephew in the car. The 38-year-old had a punctured tyre and pulled over on the hard shoulder to make a call.
Soon after, her vehicle was hit by a BMW being driven erratically by Adil Iqbal, who was seen weaving in between vehicles, dangerously undertaking and reaching speeds of up to 123mph.
He had been filming himself throughout the journey – holding the wheel with one hand and holding his phone with the other.
On July 19, 2023, he was jailed for just 12 years, for killing Frankie and seriously injuring her two children and her nephew. He was also banned from driving for just 13 years.
And if that wasn’t heartbreaking enough, because Frankie was 17 weeks pregnant, her killer was only charged with one count of causing death by dangerous driving. In law, an unborn child is not recognised as a person until the pregnancy has reached 24 weeks.
The courts have the power – so why won’t they use it?
In June 2022, the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving was increased from 14 years’ imprisonment to life imprisonment.
This case has left many of us wondering: “If this selfish, reckless individual was only jailed for 12 years, what exactly does somebody have to do on the roads to receive a life sentence?”
As far as road crime goes, surely this is as bad as it gets?
The lawyers representing Frankie’s family were equally shocked and sickened by the sentence that was handed down.
This is one of the worst cases of dangerous driving I have seen in nearly 20 years of supporting bereaved families and those who have suffered life-changing injuries as a result of road crashes.
Given the horrendous, aggravating features in this case and the sentencing powers available to the court, the chance of a life sentence was discussed prior to the hearing.
“It was hoped that a maximum sentence would serve as a stark warning to those drivers who use our public highways as speedways that they will be held accountable for their actions and the deliberate disregard of the safety of other road users.
Lifetime driving bans
The court also had the power to ban Adil Iqbal for life. So why on earth did it decide that 13 years was long enough? Why should one of Frankie’s children one day see the man who killed their mother driving around freely on our streets? Why should any road user ever be put at risk again by this man? When he chose to speed and drive eratically that day, endagering many lives and then taking Frankie’s and her unborn daughter’s, surely he lost the privilege to drive?
Ludicrously, the 13-year ban handed to Iqbal will run concurrently with his 12-year jail sentence, during which he has no ability to drive anyway. On his release from prison, the ban will will be nearing the end, and he’ll be free to drive again. A clean licence and a fresh start, still only in his 30s. Where is the justice in that?
If a driver has killed and seriously injured somebody through their reckless and selfish behaviour, why should they ever have the right to drive on our roads again?
Lethal weapons come in many forms
Whether a killer uses a knife, a gun or a vehicle to kill or injure a human being, they should be treated exactly the same by the courts.
They are all lethal weapons. Just because vehicles are all around us, used every day by the majority of the population, it does not mean that death or injury as a result of their use is an inevitable outcome that should be tolerated.
The judge in the case of Elle Edwards knew that he must deliver a significant sentence – to show that justice had been done and to send a strong message out to the public – that gun crime WILL NOT be tolerated in the UK.
While no jail term, no matter how long, would ever make up for the abhorrent crime that was committed, at least Elle’s family and the community could breathe a sigh of relief that her killer was off the streets for many years to come.
But what about Frankie Julia Hough’s dangerous killer? He might be out on our streets in a matter of years.
Road crime is REAL crime
But what about road crime? What about the many grieving families out there who have watched in horror as their loved one’s killer receives a lowly sentence compared to other crimes?
Do their family members not mean as much as the victims who are killed by other lethal weapons? Of course not. So why is there such a huge discrepancy in the way offenders are treated?
The sad fact is, if we don’t start to punish people more harshly, offenders like Iqbal will continue to kill. Because what is actually stopping them?
The reason we see people speeding, using their mobile phones behind the wheel or behaving dangerously every day on our roads, is that people know there’s every chance they can get away with it.
Drivers are making their own judgements about what is acceptable based on the lack of interventions in place:
Few police on the streets = “Nobody really takes road crime seriously. If they did, there would be more police enforcement.”
Poor sentences for road criminals = “It’s worth the risk. Even if I do get caught, I probably won’t be punished that severely.” (Drivers have seen so many cases in the media over the years, like Frankie’s, which reveal the horrifying injustice for road crash victims).
As writer and environmental and political activist, George Monbiot, said in his thought-provoking video interview: “If you want to kill somebody, use a car.”
Until the courts start to use their powers and send strong warnings out to drivers – that driving is a privilege, not a right, and that road crime WILL NOT be tolerated in the UK, we will never be safe on our roads.
Vision Zero – always a vision?
And Vision Zero – the aspiration that nobody will be killed or seriously injured on our roads by 2040, which so many authorities are now committed to across the UK, will remain just that. An aspiration. An unattainable goal. Empty words.
Our legal system for road victims and bereaved families is broken, and it must be fixed by the Government now. If we don’t fix it, we’re wilfully allowing five people to be killed and more than 60 people to be seriously injured every day on the UK’s roads. Who wants that on their conscience?
Updated on: 24 July 2023