Deaf mother campaigns for tougher sentences for dangerous drivers

First published in the October 2011 issue of The Hearing Times.

A deaf woman whose daughter suffered life-changing injuries after being hit by a dangerous driver is campaigning for tougher sentences for people found guilty of the offence. Christine Harper and her daughter Katie, from East Riding in Yorkshire, were seriously injured in a head-on collision in November 2009.

Katie, then 23 years old, suffered multiple breaks to her pelvis, two broken arms, facial damage and nerve damage to her right leg, which means that she is unlikely to ever walk properly again. Christine also suffered injuries that will affect her for for the rest of her life.

Due to missing evidence, the driver of the car was never sentenced. However, even if he had been convicted, current laws mean that in cases where victims survive the crash, the defendant can only be convicted to a maximum of two years in prison. If they plead guilty, that sentence is automatically reduced by a third.

Christine and her family believe that the sentence does not reflect the continuing effect of injuries sustained by victims of dangerous driving. “Katie and other victims are sentenced to life disability,” Christine said. “Katie was nursed at home after six weeks in hospital but could not stand or walk for six months, and she then had to learn how to walk again.”

After Katie was released from hospital, her father was forced to give up his job as a teacher to help care for her. Although she is making a recovery, she continues to suffer from her injuries. Christine said: “She is amazing, so strong, despite numerous plates, wires and screws in her arms and pelvis. She’s registered disabled and is sadly in constant pain, but she’s trying and succeeding in getting on with life.”

The family have been campaigning for tougher sentences since September last year. Now their case has been taken up by their local MP, Karl Turner. Prior to becoming an MP, Karl worked as a criminal barrister. His final case regarded dangerous driving: “It was an awful case and it was clear the judge felt constrained by the law and was unable to give the sentence he saw fit. Coincidently, one of the first cases I dealt with as an MP was that of the Harper family. It was this case that motivated me to push for this necessary change in the law.”

Karl has gained the support of the government’s Victims Commissioner, motoring organisations the RAC and the AA, and the Labour and Conservative parties. He now hopes to add the reform as an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, with the Early Day Motion 1969 being submitted for debate in the House of Commons later this month.

Karl says that the main aim is “to provide justice for victims. The current system is completely unfair. Many are left with lifelong injuries and the sentences given are embarrassingly small. Our justice system should be providing deterrence, justice for victims and punishment; our Dangerous Driving laws don’t tick any of these boxes. The changes I am proposing will go someway to addressing this issue. Christine Harper added: “We hope the maximum sentence for Dangerous Driving will go from two years to seven years.”

If you would like to support the campaign, contact your local MP and encourage them to sign the Early Day Motion 1969 to increase the maximum sentence for dangerous driving.

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