Drink-drivers who kill get new jail threat: Row over three-month sentence as new guidelines say worst offenders will be imprisoned for 10 years

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The Independent Online
DRUNK motorists who kill people should usually be jailed and, in the worst cases, should face sentences near the 10-year maximum, the Lord Chief Justice said yesterday.

However, in setting out new drink-drive sentencing guidelines Lord Taylor was immediately criticised for imposing only a three-month jail term on a driver who killed Tracey Fairhead and her baby daughter, both of whom were passengers in his car.

Ms Fairhead's mother accused Lord Taylor of failing all such victims because the maximum penalty available to the court was five years. Peter Shepherd, the driver, had originally been fined pounds 250.

The 29-year-old Enfield student's car had ploughed into the back of a stationary lorry, instantly killing Ms Fairhead, 27, and her 10-month-old daughter, Madison. Neither was wearing a seat belt.

Two hours after the crash Shepherd was found to be two points above the legal drink-drive alcohol limit.

Valerie Boyd, Ms Fairhead's mother, said: 'What has it all been for? It's all been a waste of time. He'll be out in six weeks - how is that supposed to be a deterrent to stop other bastards drinking and driving?

'He's wiped out two generations of my family. It was bad enough the first time when he was just fined. We couldn't believe that and now we can't believe he's got just three months on appeal. This isn't justice.'

John Knight, co-founder of the Campaign Against Drinking and Driving (CADD), which represents the families of more than 3,000 drink-drive victims, said the judgment was a 'green light for drunken drivers to go on killing people.

'The families are double victims - of an unlawful death and of a judicial indifference. For far too long the courts have been taking these deaths - which are not accidental - far too lightly and I see no real change here today.

'We see drinking and driving as the third most serious criminal activity after murder and manslaughter - it is a premeditated, intentional act.'

Lord Taylor, sitting with Mr Justice Popplewell and Mr Justice Scott Baker, was also criticised for doubling the nine-month jail term imposed on another drink-driver, Robert Wernet, 27, of Oxford.

Campaigners thought 18 months was also too lenient given the circumstances of his case.

Wernet's uninsured car overturned at high speed, killing John McCallum, a 27-year-old passenger, and leaving another in a coma for three weeks, after what the prosecution claimed was a 'motorised pub crawl'.

The two cases - brought by Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, who claimed the original sentences were too lenient - were the first to go before the Court of Appeal under the 1991 Road Traffic Act, which created the offence of causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs. They were heard at a time of growing public revulsion over drink-driving deaths.

On Monday, Robert Hoe, 19, whose alcohol level was double the limit, was jailed for four years for killing two young sisters, Maria and Rachel Reed, and maiming their playmate, Leigh-Ann Johns, when his car ploughed into them.

However, Hoe's offence was, in common with yesterday's two cases, committed before last August's legislation which doubled the maximum penalty for drink-driving resulting in death to 10 years.

Yesterday Lord Taylor warned that in future motorists who kill people in the worst drink-driving cases should face penalties near the maximum.

His new guidelines stated that the starting point for bad cases of drunken driving - such as racing on roads - should start at five years, instead of two as at present.

Only in exceptional cases where the alcohol limit was barely exceeded and there was strong mitigation, would a non-custodial sentence be tolerated.

Lord Taylor said: 'But in other cases, a prison sentence is required to punish the offender, to deter others from drinking and driving and to reflect public abhorrence of deaths being caused by drivers with excess alcohol.'

However, he added: 'We recognise that no term of imprisonment, whether months or years, can reconcile the family of a deceased to their loss and nor will it cure their anguish.'

MPs welcomed the new tough line taken by the Lord Chief Justice but some thought the increased sentences passed on Shepherd and Wernet were too lenient.

Doug Hoyle, MP for Warrington North and chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, said: 'Even the increased sentences seem ludicrously light and we can only hope that judges elsewhere will heed what the Lord Chief Justice has said and pass stiffer sentences in future.'

In 1982, there were 1,550 deaths due to drink-driving and 207,000 breath tests, of which 43 per cent were positive. Last year, 620 people died while 16 per cent of the 531,000 tests made were positive.

Drivers count cost, page 45

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