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Column 1104Mudie, George
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Pike, Peter L
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Quin, Ms Joyce
Reid, Dr John
Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Column 1104Simpson, Alan
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Strang, Dr. Gavin
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Joe Benton and Ms Estelle Morris.
Column 1104Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 1995, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be approved. It being later than three hours after the first motion was made, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- put the remaining Questions required to be put at that hour, pursuant to Order [10 February].
That the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1995, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be approved. That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be approved.
That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be approved.--[ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton. ]
That Glenda Jackson be discharged from the Select Committee on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill and Mr. John Heppell be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. Willetts.]
That Mr. Roger Evans be discharged from the Welsh Affairs Committee.-- [Sir Fergus Montgomery, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Willetts.]
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I wish to raise the subject of the tragic death of my constituent, Mrs. Margaret Morrison, and of the failure of the criminal justice system adequately to deal with those responsible for her death. The case raises wider issues about the way of dealing with cases in which criminal activity by a motorist has resulted in or contributed to the death of an innocent pedestrian.
Mrs. Morrison--a much-loved, 84-year-old grandmother--was killed in a hit- and-run accident on 13 September 1992. The accident occurred on Premier road, Sunderland, at about 8 pm on a Sunday evening. Mrs. Morrison was leaving the offside of a car parked on the inside lane of Premier road. The car lights were on and the road well-lit, and the weather was fine. She had closed the car door and was standing close against it when she was hit by an overtaking vehicle. Another vehicle some distance in front had already passed her, so there can be no suggestion that she appeared suddenly in front of the vehicle that hit her.
Mrs. Morrison was carried 30 ft on the bonnet of the car, her head hitting the windscreen. The car slowed and she fell on to the road. The vehicle was then driven away at high speed, and was later found abandoned half a mile away. Witnesses saw two men leaving the car. Before it was abandoned, the passenger was seen to throw two one-pint cans of Scorpion high-alcohol lager into a garden. He was seen also carefully to wipe the side of the car that hit Mrs. Morrison with a coat. He wiped also the driver's side of the vehicle and closed the driver's door using the coat.
The following day, one of the men--Joseph Dorward, much the worse for drink --gave himself up to the police. He was 34 years old and has a long record of criminal activity. He admitted to driving since the age of 16 without a licence. In due course, he was charged with failing to report an accident and failing to have a taxed vehicle, insurance or a driving licence. Later, following strong representations from Mrs. Morrison's family, an additional charge of careless driving was added.
Dorward's passenger, Stephen James Greener, gave himself up on 16 September --three days after the accident. He was charged with aiding and abetting failure to report an accident and with perverting the course of justice.
The case went before Sunderland magistrates on 9 March 1993. Incredibly, they elected to hear the case against Dorward--the driver--but to refer that against Greener--the passenger--to the Crown court. The case against Dorward was strong. It could not be proven that he was over the alcohol limit at the time of the accident, since he had failed to stop and could not be breathalysed. In addition to the can of Scorpion lager that he had been seen drinking in the car shortly before the accident, he admitted to having consumed another two pints of beer several hours earlier.
Dorward not only had a string of previous convictions, many of them involving vehicles, but it later emerged that on 9 November 1992--two months after he killed Mrs.
Column 1106Morrison and while awaiting trial for that offence--he was again arrested and charged with driving without insurance, a licence or MOT certificate, and having a defective tyre. I submit that Dorward should have been tried for those further offences at the same time as he was tried for the offences arising from Mrs. Morrison's death. That would have enabled the magistrates to place in proper context any expression of regret made on Mr. Dorward's behalf and to sentence him accordingly. In fact, however, neither the Crown Prosecution Service nor the magistrates appeared to have been aware that Dorward was continuing to commit similar offences while on bail for the death of Mrs. Morrison. That became clear only when her son spotted a newspaper report giving details of Dorward's later conviction. Dorward was fined £600 for the offences involving the death of Mrs. Morrison, payable at £3 a week and suspended until after he had finished paying--at the same rate--fines for a string of previous offences. In addition, he was banned from driving for 12 months. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Morrison's family were outraged, and so were many people in Sunderland. They take the view that, in the circumstances, the life of that innocent old lady should have been worth more than £3 a week.
As for Mr. Greener, he, in due course, appeared before His Honour Judge Capstick at Newcastle Crown court. Like Mr. Dorward, he had many previous convictions, including one for failing to stop after an accident. He was sentenced to 240 hours community service. Both the judge and Mr. Greener's counsel remarked that, as the driver of the car had not been sent to prison, it would not be right to imprison his accomplice, although a conviction for perverting the course of justice would normally result in imprisonment. The judge remarked that Mr. Dorward had been "lucky" to receive the sentence that he did. Counsel for Greener, pleading with the judge not to send his client to gaol, remarked on the "rather extraordinary disparity" that would arise between a sentence of custody on Greener and a fine already imposed on the driver.
"A member of the public,"
"looking at this matter and hearing of the consequences . . . would say it was a rather bizarre state of affairs . . . if the passenger loses his liberty whereas the person who . . . was directly responsible for killing the old lady . . . receives only a financial penalty. Such a marked disparity offends the common view of what justice is all about."
Indeed it does. In my view, the handling of the whole case offends the common view of what justice is all about, and I wish that I could convey the widespread sense of outrage in Sunderland that the case has provoked. I believe that it has been grievously mishandled by the CPS, and I have sought to obtain from the Director of Public Prosecutions an admission that that is so, but I regret that I have not been successful.
First, I should be grateful to know why, given the circumstances--I have given the Solicitor-General advance notice of the questions that I intend to ask, in the hope of receiving a substantive reply--Mr. Dorward was not charged with a more serious offence, such as manslaughter, with dangerous, reckless or careless driving as a fallback? Why, indeed, could he not have been charged, with Mr. Greener, with perverting the course of justice? That at least would have got him to the Crown court. Had he been charged with a more serious offence, I believe that there was a realistic prospect that a jury