Guest Blog: By Christopher Barrow – Immediate suspension of driving licences following a fatal or serious crash
Christopher Barrow’s wife, Lorraine (57), was killed by a speeding driver, Victoria Hamer, when cycling home from work. She died at the scene of the crash, approximately one metre from her home. Ms Hamer drove for 13 months without restrictions or training until the sentencing hearing. She was eventually sentenced to a six-month curfew, 200 hours community service, a one-year prison sentence, suspended for two years, and disqualified from driving for 30 months.
By Christopher Barrow
What evidence is there that can be used to justify the statement: “Road Crime is the poor relation in our justice system.” Even though victims have lost their life or received life-changing injuries, it can take months, if not years, for the offender to be brought to court. Whereas other, non-life-threatening offenders appear in court in days. During the gap between the offence and the sentencing hearing or trial, the offender can continue their life unaffected with no restrictions.
The justice system in this country works on the principle of innocent until proven guilty, so you may argue that suspending the driving licence before the conclusion of the court proceeding is unfair. In non-road crime cases, where there is a risk to the public, the suspect can have restrictions on their liberty imposed before court proceedings. Why not the same for road crime, when you consider the effect on the victim’s family, knowing that the offender is able to perform the exact same function they were performing when they caused the death or serious injury of loved ones without restriction?
Surely suspending the licence immediately could or would reduce the potential future harm to other road users by keeping, what is very likely to be, an unsafe driver off the road.
We all should be concerned! The offender has driven way below the expected standard and, regardless of their driving record, would have failed their driving test. When handing down the sentence, the offender will be banned from driving and ordered to take an advanced driving test before they can drive again.
In other words, it is recognised that extra tuition is required. It is simply not logical to allow a driver whose standard of driving falls below what is expected, to continue to drive without any restrictions or additional training.
The offender’s driving standard has been, and potentially continues to be a danger to other road users and the public at large. In our case, Ms Hamer drove for 13 months without restrictions or training until the sentencing hearing.
Drivers who kill or seriously injure should have the driving licence immediately suspended pending investigation, CPS charging decision, additional training, and advanced driving test.
Drivers who are investigated for the road crime of causing death or serious injury by driving dangerously or carelessly have no restrictions placed on them allowing them to continue to drive.
In our case, Ms Hamer drove to work three weeks after killing Lorraine even though we were told she was in no fit state to be interviewed by the police. If she is not fit to be interviewed how could she be fit to drive?
She was interviewed four days after returning to work, where she gave a “No Comment” interview. Every work day for the next 13 months she drove past our home and, past the very place she killed Lorraine.
This enabled her to continue getting to her place of work less than a mile from our home. What effect do you think that has on the surviving victims’ mental health or that of the victim’s family? Has anyone who sets the rules and/or guidelines suffered at the hands of a dangerous driver?
The comment “Road Crime is the poor relation in our justice system” seems to be supported by the then Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, when in May 2020, they produced a report entitled ‘Roads Policing: Not Optional – An inspection of roads policing in England and Wales.’
In May 2020, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services produced a report entitled ‘Roads Policing: Not Optional – An inspection of roads policing in England and Wales.’ Not an easy read and I note that not all forces took part in the inspection.
There are many observations and surprises. I was shocked by the lack of standardisation, training and cooperation between forces and partners.
Page 22 states: “In some forces, they are dedicated to enforcing road traffic law and investigating serious road traffic collisions (I do not think collision describes a car hitting a cyclist. It is road violence). In others, the role is included in the duties of armed response officers. And some forces don’t have any dedicated roads policing officers at all.”
What is even more damming is that on page 10 it states: “… but we found that road safety isn’t prominent in the consciousness of many politicians, police leaders and the public.”
There is a shocking revelation on page 20 when the team established that the promotion of national campaigns wasn’t very effective because forces aren’t obliged to take part.
Page 23 has figures relating to budget cuts. Overall police functions cut by 6.1%, however, the reduction in roads police is 34% in real terms. Ie: it seems like road policing is seen as easy target.
There are some striking figures on page 9:
The number of road deaths in 2018 rose to 1,624, whilst the number of homicides was 726, of which 285 was a result of knife crime. Yet knife crime is prominent in the news.
What is also a concern is the statement on page 17: “… enables the relevant Secretary of State (in this case the Home Secretary) to issue guidance on what should be included in future police and crime plans. If deaths and serious injuries on the roads are to be reduced, we recommend that the Home Secretary makes use of this provision.”
In view of the figures, I am amazed that this is not standard practice. None of the above would have helped Lorraine, as Victoria Hamer was driving her vehicle unlawfully.
For us, the most relevant page is page 39, paragraphs 2 and 3 of the section: “How well are investigations into fatal and serious injury collisions resourced?” This details a stark difference between how homicides and road killings are investigated.
I think that anyone who has gone or is going through this would feel, as we do, that the life of our loved ones, the victim, is devalued. This applies to the sentencing as well.
Page 40 to 42 list categories of investigation, recommended qualifications for investigators and caseloads for both investigators and Family Liaison Officers (FLOs). We asked our FLO to confirm that the lead detective was, minimum Professionalising Investigation Programme (PIP) level 2 and how many cases our FLO was working on. Her reply was fifteen.
Finally, a most eye-opening quote made by Nick Adderley, Chief Constable Northamptonshire Police on the Panorama programme, ‘Britain’s Killer Roads’, which aired on the 17th January 2022. He said: “I still go out on patrol and when I stop motorists driving or behaving irresponsibly, the first thing they say is “haven’t you got burglars or rapists to catch.” The reality is that the amount of death and destruction that takes place on our roads and amount of crime across our road network is so significant that we have to give it the same priority as that (burglars or rapists).” There is no doubt that this is not the case, and that road traffic is the poor relation when considering justice.
We can fix problems associated with the police force. We can accept that parliament, under the pretence of being tough on crime, can create new laws and increase prison terms, but – and this is the important point – unless the Sentencing Council changes the guidelines and our courts and judges hand down sentences that provide justice, punishment and a deterrent, the justice systems remains broken.
Read Christopher’s first blog here.
Read about our Fix our Broken Justice System campaign, which Christopher is supporting, here.
Updated on: 23 November 2023