Widow wins fight to jail killer driver: Private prosecution led CPS to bring more serious charge. Terry Kirby reports

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The Independent Online
A DRUNKEN motorist who was prosecuted for dangerous driving only after the widow of the man he had killed began a private action for manslaughter was sentenced to three years in jail yesterday amid renewed controversy over the handling of the case by the courts.

Allyson Burgess, of Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, who spent pounds 15,000 bringing the case against Dean Ryan, 26, left the Old Bailey in tears yesterday after Mr Justice Sachs passed sentence. Her solicitor said she had convinced herself he would receive at least four years; the maximum is five.

Passing sentence and awarding Mrs Burgess costs out of central funds, Judge Sachs told Ryan: 'By any standards your behaviour on that day was craven, you showed utter irresponsibility and in consequence a human life was lost, with all the ravages that caused to his family.'

Ryan, 26, of Edmonton, north London, who has earlier convictions for motoring offences, including drunken driving, killed Martin Burgess, a British Gas engineer on an emergency call, in an accident on the A10 at Enfield, north London, last January. Ryan, who had driven through a red light, was more than two times over the alcohol limit, banned from driving and not insured.

When Mrs Burgess discovered that the Crown Prosecution Service intended to charge Ryan only with causing death while driving without due care and attention, she brought a private prosecution for manslaughter.

After her complaints, the CPS changed the original charge to the more serious one of causing death by dangerous driving, but which also carries a maximum sentence of only five years. The CPS eventually took over the manslaughter prosecution, as it has powers to do, quashing it on the grounds that it would not succeed.

When the case came to court, the jury did not hear evidence that Ryan had been over the alcohol limit because of a technical error in taking samples by the police who stopped him.

Mrs Burgess, who has daughters aged four and eight, wept in the public gallery yesterday as sentence was passed. Afterwards, her solicitor, Martin Smith, said she was too upset to comment. 'She had convinced herself four years was the right sentence and she is distraught - she is so upset she can't face any interviews.' He said the sentence was disappointing.

Robert Rhodes QC, defending Ryan, said he had never intended to drive but got into his car after a row with his mother. He admitted driving carelessly but denied he had been dangerous; his 'tragic error of judgement' would live with him for the rest of his life.

Marilyn Owen, a friend of the Burgess family and a member of Roadpeace, which campaigns for better deals for victims of dangerous drivers, said the sentence was 'absolutely disgusting'. 'He will be out in 18 months, Allyson and her two little girls have to serve a life sentence.'

Law change urged, page 5