Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Tougher laws on the cards after boy (11) killed by drunk driver on UK farm

Richard Wheeler

UK drink-drivers who kill on private land face the prospect of harsher sentences after a transport minister pledged to consider a law change.

MP John Hayes said he is willing to meet Pamela Whitlam, whose 11-year-old son Harry died after he was struck by a reversing farm vehicle driven by a man more than twice the legal driving limit.

Gary Green, of Wakefield, was given a sentence of 16 months and two weeks in prison for health and safety violations which contributed to Harry's death at Swithens Farm, Rothwell, on August 9 2013.

But Green could not be prosecuted under road traffic laws because Harry's death happened on private land.

Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) said such an offence on public land would bring a maximum jail term of 14 years under road traffic laws, with the potential for an unlimited fine and a driving ban of at least two years.

He called for "Whitlam's Law" in order to change the Road Traffic Act to consider driving offences on private land as criminal offences.

Mr Hayes said he would consider the "possibility of future legislative reform", adding in the Commons: "We will proceed with the firm intention that tragedies such as Harry Whitlam's might be prevented in the future."

Mr Shelbrooke, leading a Commons debate, said: "How often in this chamber do people have to come here and try and do something about our drink-driving laws and make sure people are properly prosecuted and make sure justice is meted out, to at least bring closure to the family?

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"I ask anybody in this chamber who is a parent how they would feel if their only child, their only son was killed and the immediate reaction was 'We cannot prosecute' even though that driver was drunk and all the investigations showed he had plenty of time to see this young boy.

"Harry Whitlam is dead because of a drink-driver, and it shames us all (Green) cannot be prosecuted because of a loophole in the law that some solicitors out there would exploit to get people off what is a crime."

Mr Shelbrooke concluded by reading a statement from Mrs Whitlam, in which she said: "It is a sad fact that some law firms pride themselves on exploiting this legal loophole, using it to get drivers acquitted of drink-driving offences.

"It's even more distressing to me when they quote my son's death as an example of how they can beat the system."

Mr Hayes, replying for the Government, said he was pleased to tell MPs action would be considered.

He said: "I will consider how we might progress this, including the possibility of future legislative reform.

"That may sound like a blithe, easy commitment to be delivered by a future government, however, it is important we get that reform right - that we don't rush and make errors in how we frame that kind of legislation."

Mr Hayes said it is more complicated than it first seems, adding: "Nonetheless, that is not a reason to do nothing."

He extended an invitation to Mr Shelbrooke and Mrs Whitlam to meet with him and his officials.

Mr Hayes went on: "How we respond will depend on the joint-working of a large number of bodies within government.

"I'm not able to say exactly how the law will change today."

He said the Government will "proceed with certainty", adding: "I tell you this - we will proceed with the firm intention that tragedies such as Harry Whitlam's might be prevented in the future."

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