On a busy morning at Chieveley Services, just off the M4 near Newbury, Berkshire, the crowds of holidaymakers, truckers, sales reps and coach passengers poured in. Many were drawn to a large display, part of a campaign against drink-driving by the police and the brewing giant Courage.

One photograph showed a red Bedford van crushing the rear wheel of a ladies' bicycle. Near this picture stood Cathey Adams, a mother of four, holding a petition calling for tougher sentences for drink-drivers. The bicycle crushed by a drink-driver's van was hers. Its rider was her husband, David.

Cathey was a housewife living on an estate in Witney, Oxfordshire, with her husband and their four young boys. David, aged 42, was an engineer who had recently left the RAF after 22 years. The couple had spent the past six years doing up their semi. 'We were just an ordinary family,' says Cathey.

Late one afternoon, 10 days before Christmas 1992, David set off on Cathey's bicycle to buy some milk. Minutes later the van knocked him off the bike and ran over him, killing him instantly. The driver, Martin Clarke, 31, from Witney, was breath- tested and found to be three times over the legal limit.

'I told my eldest son, Richard, on the night it happened,' Cathey recalls. 'He'd been at his school's Christmas play. I told him the truth. He was nine years old. I didn't think it was fair to tell him any differently.

'David had loved the kids. He'd been fit and strong. I couldn't believe he could go just like that. Every time I looked at the children, I felt really sad. I hurt for them. I couldn't explain why Daddy had gone out and not come back.

'I said to Richard, 'Don't worry love - they've caught the man who did this, and they're going to punish him for what he's done.' I believed it, too.'

In March this year, Clarke, a groundsman who lived within a mile of the Adamses, appeared at Oxford Crown Court. He admitted a charge of causing death by careless driving, having consumed alcohol over the prescribed limit - a new offence under the 1991 Road Traffic Act, which was being used for the first time. The offence carried a maximum jail sentence of five years. Clarke was sentenced to 21 months, of which he was expected to serve at least 10. He could be released in the new year.

'It shocked me so much,' says Cathey. 'They told me I'd just have to accept it. But I just couldn't sit down and say 'that's it'. Within 24 hours I'd made up my mind.'

Cathey drew up a petition condemning the sentence and calling for an urgent review of the drink- driving provisions of the new Road Traffic Act. 'There was so much I wanted to say about my case, but I knew it couldn't be a personal thing. I didn't want this to be a vendetta. My petition is about the law.'

At first she gave copies to family and friends. Then she widened the campaign to shops and offices in Witney. 'I honestly thought everybody would be on my side. But a lot of places wouldn't accept the petition. They said it was too political, or that they weren't allowed to do it. A few local supermarkets wouldn't take it, and I had a bad response from schools.

'When I went back to see how the smaller places were doing, I'd find people had mislaid the petition, or they made some excuse for not having it there - or they hadn't bothered at all. In some cases it was just shoved in a drawer.

'Some people would tell me why they didn't want to support it. I got answers such as 'Well, I feel so sorry for his family and all the harassment they have had over this.' I was so angry. I couldn't believe people could be so callous. Here was this man, who still has his life and his family, and people were feeling sorry for him. Here was me with four children and my husband had been killed. I'd just come back home, shut the door and have a good bawl.'

Even the reactions of some friends hurt. She asked one to give petitions to her husband to take to work. 'She said, 'Cath, you might have a bit of a problem with the men - well, the men all drink, don't they?' I told her: 'Yes, the men may drink, but I hope they're fathers first.'

'Drink is something that a lot of people are involved in. It's like a vested interest. A petition against animal experiments got 94,500 signatures in just six weeks. We can put our name down and not feel it's touching us at all.'

Cathey refused to give up. She decided to write to large companies and organisations for support. Courage responded, inviting Cathey to join its two-week anti- drink-drive campaign in July. She agreed - as long as she could include her petition.

As she stood by the display in Chieveley Services in July, some people recognised her from news reports. One retired couple, John and Joyce Rickard, on their way home to Nuneaton, Warwickshire, after a holiday on the south coast, hadn't heard of the case, but stopped to sign the petition. They were shocked to learn that the woman to whom they were speaking was a victim of drink-driving. Mrs Rickard said, 'Although you feel for the person when you read about it, until you've actually met somebody it doesn't really sink in.'

After two hours, Cathey had four pages of names to add to her 17,000 signatures. By September, she had gathered almost 58,000 signatures. She and her children then presented the petition to her MP, Douglas Hurd.

Cathey is still being sent pages of signatures by helpers. 'Although the main petition has been handed in, it's not finished,' she says. 'I'm still going to follow it up with the Prime Minister. If he's not going to do anything, I'll try the Opposition. It can't end there, not after so many people supported me.'

(Photographs omitted)

Comments