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Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan): I support Government new clause 39 on dangerous driving. Last night, I presented a petition to the House on behalf of Frank Round and Paula Sharrock, the father and sister of Kerry Adamson, who was killed as a result of dangerous driving. The petition was signed by 21,000 people in the Wigan area, which shows the depth of concern about the sentence passed.
The facts of the case are clear. There was a fracas in a pub, which spilled out into the street. Mr. Daniel Beeston Rose got into a car. He drove straight at Kerry Adamson and dragged her for a quarter of a mile, breaking both her arms and her leg, and almost severing her ear. She suffered horrendous friction burns. He then fled the scene without giving any assistance or seeing whether Kerry's life could be saved. He did not give himself up for over three days, in which time, of course, there was no possibility of the police proving whether he had been drinking or taking drugs.
Initially, Mr. Daniel Beeston Rose was charged with murder, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided that there was insufficient evidence for the charge, which was dropped and replaced with one of manslaughter. That was also replaced by a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, as he indicated that he would plead guilty. The family agreed to that, on an understanding from the CPS that the 10-year maximum was equivalent to the sentence that he would have received for manslaughter. There was no trial, however, and the family felt that they had no opportunity to put their case.
The judge took account of all the alleged positive factors in favour of the defendant, but no obvious account of those that went against him. For instance, the judge wanted him to return to work, yet he took no account of the fact that this person had been sacked for stealing. The judge wanted him to return to his partner and child, yet he took no account of the fact that this person had already fathered other children and had since left his new partner and their child. He accepted that this person did not see Kerry Adamson, yet there was forensic evidence that her palm prints were on the bonnet of the car. He took no account of this person's
We have to recognise the consequences. Clearly, Kerry Adamson diedher life was cut short. But it was worse than that. Her husband is now a widower, and her children Daniel and Tamzin are left motherless. This is not a one-victim crime; it affects the whole family, traumatising them dramatically. The family understand that nothing will bring Kerry back, but they want to ensure that theirs is a positive campaign with a positive result. They want to ensure that sentencing sends the clear message to everybody that society does not accept that the death of a fellow human being is in any way acceptable. Those committing such an offence have to be taken out of society because they pose a danger, as was said earlier, and to ensure that others are deterred from acting in this way. If we can achieve that, we will prevent other families from going through the same trauma that Kerry Adamson's family have experienced.
My constituents' campaign has been a success: we have new clause 39, which increases the maximum sentence from 10 years to 14 years. The Government and Parliament have heard their pleas and those of many Members on both sides of the House, some of whose constituents have had similar experiences; however, it is also essential that the courts recognise them. In Kerry's case, the sentence could have been 10 years, but in effect it was one year. If raising the maximum by 40 per cent. ensures that the sentences imposed are increased only by 40 per cent., in Kerry's case the killer would have been out in less than a year and a half. People would still have felt that the sentence given was inadequate in the extreme. If that is all that happens, the victory of my constituents and those of other Members will be extremely hollow.
The petition that I presented last night called not only for the sentences to be increased, but for the courts to recognise that they are available and that use should be made of the increased maximum. I hope that the Home Secretary will impress upon the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the entire court system the view of this Parliament. We want the sentences to be increased, but we also want the courts to make full use of them, so that when people such as Kerry die, those who commit such offences are properly punished. They should not be left, like Kerry Adamson's killer, with just a year to serve. He was thereby able to come out and, in effect, laugh at the courts and at her family, leaving them totally dismayed, disgusted and feeling let down by the way in which the courts handled their case.
Simon Hughes: In following the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner), I should point out that on reaching Report, my hon. Friends and I tabled new clause 9, which called for the maximum penalty for dangerous driving to be increased to 14 years. We were therefore very pleased to discover that the Government followed our suggestion in respect of those who cause death through that means of aggression. Others made that suggestion toowe do not claim it in any party political waybut I should point out that we have been very clear on this matter, collectively and personally.
I am among those in this House who have been too close to families in this position. I pay tribute, as other colleagues have done, to the way in which such families have made their own grief and tragedy a public policy matter. My constituents, Christine and Jim Bradford, lost their 14-year-old son, whom I knew; indeed, I had recently presented prizes to and spoken to him, and enjoyed his company. Through RoadPeace and other organisations, the Bradfords and others have ensured that we cannot run away from this issue, and we are not doing so.
The Home Office advised at the beginning of the Bill's passage that we could not add such a clause because it was outwith the Bill's purview, so I am relieved to discover that that advice has been reviewed. The Home Office now accepts that it can be included, as some of us said from the beginning that it should. So there is joy over the collective sinner that repenteth and see'eth the wisdom of their ways.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East): It is heartening that there is a degree of consensus in the House on this issue. We have all been touched by great personal tragedies in our constituencies and regions. Indeed, in our region, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Evening Mail has run the "Justice for Isobel" campaign. All such families who see us united today will be pleased that we are taking this action.
Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. This is an issue that can and should unite us. This measure should provide great consolation to those who have suffered personally through seeing people act criminally and get away with it, because they will know that it will not happen again. Indeed, you and others well know, Madam Deputy Speaker, of the benefit that it will provide if we get it right.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): What about the other half of the equation that my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) mentioned? When judges have a higher maximum sentence, they still use nothing like it.
Simon Hughes: That raises the general issue about what we do and what judges should do, which I shall come to shortly. My hon. Friends and I take the view that it is for Parliament to set the maximum sentence, and for the courts to use their discretion about what sentence to impose. However, it is fair to say that courts reflect, by and large, the view of a society from which judges, too, come. Thank goodness, it is now possible to appeal against a lenient sentence to make sure that inconsistent leniency will not disadvantage a victim's family.
I turn to the final issue that flows from the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan, and which is a concern for us all. Through this legislation, we are, I hope, trying to ensure that we get the balance right in terms of what judges and magistrates can do. We need to ensure that the mechanisms exist for maximum consistency, but there must also be the maximum ability to reflect the individual circumstances of a particular case, because each case is different.
I share the Home Secretary's view that we do nobody a service by having a histrionic and aggressive debate on these matters. They are serious and difficult, and all of us want to get the balance right between punishing those who commit serious offences, protecting the public from their reoffending, rehabilitating offenders so that they do not offend again, and tempering justice with mercy. Behind all of that lies a desire to reduce violence in our society, which is at far too high a level and is often fuelled, it may be said, by drugs in general and alcohol in particular. They are the cause of many of these offences.
I share absolutely the view of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) that we must not sentence by reflex. Getting sentencing right is a deliberative process in the light of experience. It is clear that Parliament has needed to come back to this issue since capital punishment was abolished. We put in place a mandatory life sentence for murder for an obvious reason: to give the public the consolation that there would be a serious punishment for what previously might have resulted in the death penalty.
Without wishing to be rude, Madam Deputy Speaker, you, like me, will rememberalthough we were both young at the timethat a major debate took place during our early years about whether there should have been two types of homicide and a different penalty for culpable homicide; indeed, that debate rages in the United States to this day. In setting out three types of murder, the Government proposal categorises murder in a simplistic way. The advice of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, the Sentencing Advisory Panel and the judiciary is that is impossible to classify murders in that way. It is right to have a maximum sentence, which Parliament should set but, since I have been in the House, Liberal Democrats have opposed Parliament setting a mandatory sentencein our book, that applies to murder, too.
On Saturday, I read in the paper about someone who was given a non-custodial sentence for murder because he had murdered his parents, who were both ill and disturbed and had been violent towards him for many years. He was driven to kill them in desperation. We believe that sentencing must reflect the difference between someone who commits a sadistic, violent, aggressive and unprovoked killing and the person who is provoked over a period of years, eventually snapping and taking someone's life. I share the Home Secretary's view that we need something that achieves, in his words, clarity and consistency, and gives confidence. Although our view is different from the Government's we do not disagree about those principles.
We also agree that we need to reflect the views of our communities. What is said in court is sometimes not what happens in realitywhat you hear is not always what you get. I strongly advocate that the sentence set by the judge must be the sentence that is served. Under the proposals, it would be explained carefully to an
A judge might tell a defendant, "You will serve a minimum of 10 years," or that part of the sentence will be served in custody and part outside. I look forward to the day when we carry the public with us in showing that prison is a softer option than a sentence in the community. Prison is often quite a soft optionit is not a hard option at all, because everything is done for people and they do not have to think at all. Going out into the community and having to work for rehabilitation is often much more difficult.
There is another way in which we can ensure consistency. I do not claim the authorship of this proposalit appeared recently in an article by Louis Blom-Cooper. We could make sure in every murder case that the prosecution has the right of appeal if it thinks that the sentence is too low. We could provide that safeguard to guarantee consistency.