'My daughter was dead and all the legal system had done was slap a wrist.'
Roger Barry tells how he was denied justice
Wednesday 16 August 1995
When the case came to court seven months later, the driver was charged only with the minor offence of careless driving and pleaded guilty. My wife and I were shocked and horrified that she was not facing at least a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, which would have reflected the events and their tragic consequences. But worse was to come.
Fining the driver just pounds 250 and eight penalty points, the magistrate made it clear that the death of my daughter could not be taken into account under the charge that had been brought. He had at his disposal under that paltry charge a fine of pounds 2,500 and the power to suspend the driver for an indefinite period. Yet he chose a penalty at the lowest end of the scale.
And that was it. My daughter was dead and all the legal system had done was slap a wrist. I had no right of appeal against the charge or sentence; only the guilty have that privilege. I could not tell how my happy, healthy child had had a miserable death after suffering for three days, as I was represented by the state and so had no right to address the court; only the guilty have that privilege. But I did learn from the driver's lawyer, during his long argument in mitigation, of her "bravery" in continuing to drive soon after the crash and how full of remorse she was. However, she has never apologised for what she did.
The whole process was a sham. The law did not, and to this day has not, censured anyone for killing my child. It found the driver guilty only of bad driving, and has never said she was culpable for what followed on from that. In effect, it has attached greater importance to the smashing of two cars than to my daughter's life.
The charge of careless driving was also an insult. In what other sphere of life would the killing of someone be put down to mere carelessness or be treated in such a dismissive manner?
Sadly, I have since learnt our case was not unusual. RoadPeace, a charity that campaigns for safer roads and supports road crash victims, has a dossier of similar complaints. Courts in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland routinely bring manslaughter charges against drivers who kill. In Britain, such drivers are seldom charged with the death.
In passing his ridiculously lenient sentence, the magistrate said the "court was bound to look at the driving itself rather than the consequences of the driving which may, of course, be disproportionate to the driving error".
However, this does not apply elsewhere. The penalties imposed on drink- drivers are heavy, even when the drivers are not involved in a crash, because the courts anticipate the consequences of the drivers' action. So why can it not take into account the consequences when someone is killed by other forms of dangerous driving?
The police hid behind the letter of the law in not prosecuting the driver with causing death by dangerous driving. Before my car was hit I had been driving at about 35mph, which I considered a safe speed for the narrow, wet and winding road. The speed of the car that crashed into us was calculated by the police as just within the 60mph national speed limit. Because of this, the driver was considered to have been driving without due care and attention but not dangerously.
However, the speed limit determines the maximum speed for a road, not the safe speed. The limit on motorways - where traffic moves within clearly marked lanes with the protection of safety barriers - is 70mph. It was nonsense for the police to condone a driver travelling just 15mph slower down a wet, twisting country lane, where cars were passing each other with less than 3ft to spare. Failure to prosecute for the more serious offence was tantamount to encouraging dangerous driving.
Above all, the issue of the death itself not being addressed by the law is the one families of road crash victims find hardest to bear. To lose someone through a sudden, violent death is hard enough to cope with; to see those responsible getting away with nothing more than a mild rebuke arouses feelings of deep anger and a sense of betrayal.
It is this aspect of the law that most needs changing. There are no simple solutions, but Andrew Miller MP (Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston) is promoting a change in the law that would introduce a charge of "motor manslaughter". According to RoadPeace, only about 5 per cent of deaths on the road involve a prosecution that addresses the fatality. Motorists who kill are mostly charged only with careless driving. The "motor manslaughter" charge, which would override existing laws, would force the law to recognise death on the road and those responsible would face the full consequences of their actions.
As our lives and roads grow busier, there is a tendency to chip away at the rules. Many of us drive a few miles over the speed limit, reluctantly give way at pedestrian crossings, overtake cyclists in the face of oncoming traffic, use mobile phones while driving ... the list is endless. But unless the law holds a driver wholly responsible and accountable for anything that occurs while in control of a car, truck or motorcycle, then attitudes will not change.
It is no good merely saying accidents will happen. Each year more than 300,000 people are killed or injured in crashes on Britain's roads. There are nearly 50,000 serious injuries and about 4,000 deaths, all but a few preventable. Bad driving has become commonplace.
Government efforts to educate road users, like the Speed Kills campaign, have to be enforced through sentences that compel motorists to take their responsibilities seriously and change their bad habits. The courts have altered our perception of drink-driving by introducing stiff penalties, and they should be applauded for this. But magistrates must remember that five out of six deaths on the road are caused by sober drivers.
The law, as it stands, is a shambles. Before the case I was involved in was heard, the magistrate justifiably imposed a pounds 200 fine on a man who had sped through a non-residential part of town in the early hours one Sunday morning.
The crash last year left our daughter dead and the lives of my wife and I in tatters. The court thought it appropriate to fine the driver just pounds 50 more than the man mentioned above. What is worse, she was never charged with her true offence. And that, surely, is not justice.
RoadPeace can be contacted on 0181 964 1021.
Compare with the Independent: See how much you could save by switching credit cards. Compare now
Last bank in town? Shut it down, say Barclays and then RBS. But locals say No
Erudio Student Loans: Reader has cash wrongly taken from account by debt collector
Row goes on over deferred student loans
How to start your own internet business
The whole truth about legal fees: Conveyancing can knock a big hole in home-buyers' finances. To get the best deal you must cross-examine solicitors about their charges, says Sue Fieldman
- 1 Poveglia: 'World's most haunted island' up for auction...is anyone brave enough to buy it?
- 2 Refugee facing deportation from Sweden saved by fellow passengers refusing to let plane leave
- 3 Naked yoga: the bare truth - it's already big in the US, and has now landed here
- 4 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 5 Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline bribed doctors to boost sales, says whistleblower
David Cameron: 'Jesus invented the Big Society – I'm just continuing God's work'
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage on Have I Got News For You: Ukip leader ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
iJobs Money & Business
£40000 - £50000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: A leading, Cit...
£35000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: You must ...
£45000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Corporate Acti...
£350 - £400 per day: Harrington Starr: An opportunity has arisen at a FCA regu...
Day In a Page
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony
A charming four-bedroom Oxfordshire cottage with oak floors and chunky-beamed ceilings, £465,000
A beautiful one-bed flat in a sought-after portered block, with access to Norland Square communal gardens
A one-bedroom flat within a Sixties school conversion with high-spec design and open-plan kitchen, close to Lambeth North Tube, £435,000
A 17th century four-bedroom house, with open fireplaces, cellar and pool, £600,000
A three-bedroom, coach house with luxury open-plan living space and contemporary breakfast bar
A newly refurbished one-bedroom flat in the heart of Mayfair, close to Grosvenor Square
A charming four-bedroom house overlooking Burleigh Square Park, close to Thorpe Bay
A three-bedroom farmhouse with a large inglenook fireplace and exposed beams
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace
A four-bedroom farm-conversion with three bathrooms and two reception rooms
A two-bedroom detached house with ensuite bathrooms and a sun-drenched decked terrace, £750,000
A modern and spacious two-bedroom, penthouse flat with two bathrooms in a prestigious development
A beautifully renovated five-bedroom terrace with three reception rooms and a courtyard garden, £700,000
A four-bedroom period house which has been extended to provide almost 2,500sq ft of living space, £675,000
A pretty three-bedroom Georgian home with a 22ft drawing room and a master suite with a balcony, £525,000
A substanstial family home with five bedrooms and landscaped gardens in the much sought-after Branksome Park area
A well-presented three-bedroom house with front and rear gardens, close to White City station, £475,000
A handsome five-bedroom house in a sought-after location close to the city centre
A five-bedroom country home with valley views, equestrian stables and 27 acres of land, £725,000
A six-bedroom farm house with separate, detached cottages and 371 acres of land
A two-bedroom cottage with parquet floors, chunky beams and an open fireplace
A three-bedrrom flat with 2,733sq feet of living space, a beautiful private garden and 15 acres of communal grounds