Mullin accuses CPS after a hit-and-run driver goes free

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The Independent Online
CHRIS MULLIN is an MP renowned for his campaigns to secure the release of people from prison. But today the man who championed the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six has a new demand: that a hit-and-run driver be incarcerated.

Joseph Dorward, a 34-year-old who has the stocky build of a man who pumps iron, has been driving without a licence since the age of 16. On 13 September 1992, in an untaxed, uninsured vehicle, after a drinking session consuming high-alcohol Scorpion lager, he knocked down and killed 84-year-old Margaret Morrison, one of Mr Mullin's Sunderland constituents.

The city's magistrates fined him £600, payable at £3 a week, and banned him from driving for five years.

Mr Mullin was appalled. "This guy is a villain," he said. "I'm not satisfied that the Crown Prosecution Service takes hit-and-run cases seriously."

It a view shared by the relatives of people killed in hit-and-run cases who have seen motorists given lenient penalties for ending a life. The way in which the CPS dealt with Joseph Dorward left Mrs Morrison's two sons so angry that, immediately after burying their mother, the brothers took matters into their own hands. They "invaded" the CPS office in Newcastle upon Tyne, overcame electronic security devices, and confronted shocked staff.

Their perseverance finally drew a response from the head of the service in London, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Barbara Mills, and led to a late-night adjournment debate in the House of Commons in which the Solicitor-General, Sir Derek Spencer, was forced to defend the service. But the Morrisons' sense of grievance remains unabated. They believe that, from the start, the CPS seemed less than vigorous in its pursuit of the case.

Joseph Dorward and his passenger, Stephen James Greener, who disappeared for three days after the hit-and-run, both lived within two miles of Mrs Morrison. Neither displayed remorse over her death.

Dorward had been drinking again when, the following day, he gave himself up. Two months after the hit-and-run, and four months before his court appearance, Dorward was again arrested and charged with a further string of driving offences. As he walked free from court after being sentenced to paying the £600 fine, David Morrison shouted to him: "You'd better watch your back!" Dorward, accompanied by minders, snarled back: "Bastard!"

Greener was later charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Like Dorward, he had many previous convictions, including one for failing to stop after an accident, but he too walked free. Newcastle Crown Court, to which his case was referred, sentenced him to 240 hours' community service, after the judge decided it would not be right to imprison the accomplice when the driver had been treated so leniently. The judge thought Dorward had been "lucky" in the magistrates' hands.

The Morrison brothers don't think it was quite like that. Last week, David Morrison, 47, who sells hydrotherapy equipment, claimed that the Crown Prosecution Service had shown "no interest in justice, or in victims".

Chris Mullin acknowledges that his constituent had alighted from a parked car via an off-side door. "But the car lights were on and the road well lit, and the weather was fine. She had closed the door and was standing close against it when she was hit," he said.

David Morrison says his mother must have seen the approaching car, "because her hands were crossed in front of her face when she was hit. So the driver had time to see and avoid her".

It is what happened next that the Morrisons and Mr Mullin believe should have justified a more serious charge - such as reckless driving or, as David Morrison prefers, manslaughter - against Dorward.

After carrying Mrs Morrison 30 feet on the bonnet, Dorward's car slowed and she fell on to the road. Dorward then drove off at high speed. Before abandoning the car half a mile away, Greener threw two cans of Scorpion into a garden and wiped down the outside of the vehicle with a coat.

A witness told the police that Greener said to Dorward some time later: "We should have stopped and faced it." To which Dorward replied: "Just shut up, shut up or I'll give you a good hiding."

The way in which the CPS dealt with Mrs Morrison's killers is one of several recent controversial hit-and-run cases for which the nine-year- old service has been bitterly criticised.

Last December the CPS dropped a case against the hit-and-run killer of a Buckinghamshire motorcyclist because the driver refused to answer police questions. Only after a press outcry forced the service to reconsider was the driver sentenced to four-and-a-half years' jail.

Another driver, who killed a nine-year-old girl on a zebra crossing in Essex, was jailed for 28 days last July only after the coroner kicked up a fuss. The police wanted to press charges, but the CPS repeatedly resisted.

In an earlier case, the CPS moved in only after the family of a hit- and-run victim in the West Midlands began a private prosecution. Where public prosecutions have been successful, sentencing has been extremely varied. A hit-and-run driver who killed a five-year-old girl in Yorkshire last year was given three months. In Manchester, however, a hit-and-runner who was high on drugs when he killed a girl, got eight years.

When the CPS balked at prosecuting Dorward for offences serious enough to be heard by the Crown Court, despite police enthusiasm to the contrary, the Morrison brothers launched their anti-CPS campaign, forcing their way in to see Dickie Dickenson, Chief Crown Prosecutor for the region.

"They couldn't believe we'd beaten their security," David Morrison said.

Mr Dickenson later told Chris Mullin what he had told the brothers: "There was only enough evidence to support a charge of careless driving."

Given the evidence of beer-drinking and "screeching" in and out of a car park before the hit-and-run, the MP dismisses this explanation. "While I appreciate that nothing can be done to put right what has gone wrong," he wrote to Mr Dickenson, "I do think some acknowledgement that mistakes have been made would be appropriate."

No such acknowledgement has been made, despite further correspondence with Barbara Mills. Mr Mullin then raised the case in an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 15 February - two years after Dorward and Greener walked free. He said: "In my view, the handling of the whole case offends the common view of what justice is all about, and I wish I could convey the widespread sense of outrage in Sunderland that the case has provoked."

The Solicitor General said: "We cannot approach cases in an emotional spasm, or on the basis that the defendant is a scallywag, and the book should be thrown at him."

Last week the Sunderland MP conceded: "There's nothing more I can do."