How to get away with manslaughter

Under English law there is a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. This is the charge most commonly used whenever someone kills another person with a car though sometimes a lesser one is used. The charge seems to lead to sentences of between 6 months suspended and 2 years - one rarely hears of anything more severe.

If this charge didn't exist, a charge of manslaughter (unpremeditated murder) would have to be used, as is used for causing death in any other way. This is used in a few extreme driving cases (e.g. a fatal accident at the Silverstone race track on 9-Jul-1999, perhaps because it wasn't on the public highway). Manslaughter typically results in a custodial sentence of around 2 - 10 years.

Why is death caused by driving treated differently from death caused in any other circumstance? Why are motorists so privileged? (That's a rhetorical question - it can't be because they make the laws, can it?)

It would appear that a human life is worth at most a few thousand pounds, as judged by the fines in motoring cases before the criminal courts. This is oddly out-of-step with current 6-figure awards for damages in civil courts.

Some examples

I make no apology for highlighting cases of drivers who have gotten away with killing people without being charged with manslaughter (or murder in some cases).
Gary Hart
infamously caused the Selby rail crash and 10 deaths by losing control of his vehicle. As this case was so bad, he got 5 years for dangerous driving, rather more than many of these others...
Paul Thompson,
aged 36, a van driver, went into the back of a family car on the A1M near Stevenage, killing a 5-week-old girl and injuring her twin sister. He was fined 1000 for driving without due care and attention, plus 300 costs and banned for 6 months.
(Ceefax 27-Jan-1999)
Martin Rose,
aged 39, of Smeeth, Kent, was convicted of a drink-driving offence in which a couple and their son died. Their daughter had serious injuries. He failed to stop his van at a junction near Ashford and ploughed into their car. He also refused a breath test and to provide a blood specimen to the Police. He had 3 previous convictions for drunk-driving. He then tried to claim against the family's insurers for his injuries, asserting that the wife (the other driver) was negligent.
(Ceefax and Teletext 15-Jul-1999, CEN 16-Jul-1999)
An Austrian lorry driver
was charged with careless driving and failing to stop and report an accident, following an incident in which a 15-year-old paper girl was knocked off her bike and killed on the A299 near her home in Herne Bay, Kent.
(Cambridge Evening News 22-Jan-1996)
Stanley Casson,
aged 90, of Prestwich, Greater Manchester, was sentenced to 12 months jail, having admitted causing death by dangerous driving, and thereby became the oldest person to be sent to jail in England & Wales. He ran down and killed a woman and her granddaughter and then failed two eye tests administered by the Police. He was subsequently released on bail pending an appeal.
(Ceefax and Teletext 7-Aug-1999)
Karli Jones,
a learner-driver aged 22, was doing 100mph on the A4 in Reading in 1997, got a 5-year jail sentence for dangerous driving. He ran into another car, killing the driver and the 19-year-old passenger; two other passengers were seriously injured.
(Ceefax 31-Mar-1999)
James Talbot
caused the death of his two passengers, Mark Edge and Jason Hawkes, when he lost control on the A603, his car went into the air, landed on a parked car, bounced into a second one, which propelled that into a third. They had been out pubbing yet James' blood alcohol level was below the limit. Experts found no defect in his car. He admitted his bad driving caused the deaths and was given a sentence of 2 years with 5 years' disqualification. He then appealed, claiming that was too severe, which the Appeal Court rejected, saying the sentence was not excessive.
(CEN 31-Jan-1996)
Simon MacDonald,
then aged 17, drove his stepfather's Peugeot 106 at over 90mph out of Great Chishill, Cambs, and lost control, killing one of his four passengers - his 18-year-old best friend. He admitted causing death by dangerous driving and was sentenced to three and a half years youth custody and banned for five years.
(CEN 6-Aug-1999)
Gerald Sharratt,
a Metropolitan Police Constable, rammed into the back of a Cambridge nurse's car on 19-Jun-1995 and was tried and convicted on a charge of causing death by driving dangerously but was kept on in the Force. Judith Hood was stopped at temporary traffic lights on the A10. He was involved in a high-speed chase exercise.
(CEN 1-Feb-1996 onwards)
John Ward,
a lorry driver, fell asleep at the wheel, ploughed into the back of a council maintenance lorry and killed two workmen. The trial jury acquitted him of causing death by dangerous driving and found him guilty of careless driving. He was fined 350, banned from driving for 9 months and ordered to pay 50 prosecution costs.
(CEN 13-Jun-1996)
Russell Lyon,
aged 19, plus a 17-year-old accomplice, stole a car, drove it at up to 60mph erratically through London's theatreland, hit a man, carried him on the bonnet for 160 yards before the man fell under the wheels to his death. Lyon was charged with and admitted causing death by dangerous driving and aggravated vehicle-taking. As he was committing a crime at the time, the charge should have been murder.
(CEN, 3-May-1997)
John Were,
a 21-year old Trinity College undergraduate, killed two car passengers and seriously injuring three others whilst almost three times over the blood alcohol limit. He was sentenced to 18 months, suspended for 12 months, after admitting to two charges of causing death by dangerous driving.
(CEN, 13-Jan-1998)
Peter Kite,
the managing director of the Lyme Bay activity centre where four children died in a canoe accident, got a manslaughter sentence of 3 years reduced to 2 years by the Appeal Court on 8-Feb-1996. They rejected his appeal against his conviction.
Two years just for being responsible for the circumstances leading to death! If he'd knocked them down with his car he would have been charged with dangerous driving (or similar) and received a fine and suspension, it seems.
A youth
was charged with attempted murder for hitting a policeman in South Yorkshire.
Presumably if the youth had used a car the charge would have been dangerous driving or similar?
(Reported on 30-Mar-1996)


Links etc.

Campaign Against Drinking and Driving (CADD)

(Info as of 14-Sep-1998)

Supports and assists the families of victims who have suffered death or injury by drunken drivers on the road in the UK.

Web: www.cadd.org.uk
Tel: 0191 281 1581
Fax: 0191 281 4591
Address: 83 Jesmond Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 1NH

Lax laws

George & Giulietta Galli-Atkinson of Enfield are leading a protest against these lax laws. Their 16-year-old daughter was run down by a driver, who was then fined 2,000 and banned for 5 years.
(Teletext 22-Nov-1998)


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