Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore has led a debate in the House of Commons on harsher penalties for dangerous drivers – on the first anniversary that Hillfields couple Ross and Clare Simons were mowed down and killed in Hanham.
Mr Skidmore, who already has the support on the issue from the Prime Minister, secured the backbench business debate following the Justice 4 Ross and Clare campaign for tougher penalties for dangerous drivers that has so far attracted over 13,000 signatures.
He said the issue of the law on dangerous driving was one that members on all sides of the House felt strongly about and that the Government was committed to reviewing the law surrounding offences.
He told MPs that on Sunday 27th January last year, 34-year-old Ross and 30-year-old Clare were riding their tandem bike in Lower Hanham Road: “Only the previous day, they had celebrated the news that they were to begin IVF treatment to start a family. With everything to life for, they had their entire futures together to look forward to.
“Elsewhere in Hanham, Nicholas Lovell, 38, was driving his partner’s Citroen Picasso at speed when he was spotted by police, whose sirens quickly indicated for him to pull over.”
Mr Skidmore said Lovell sped into Lower Hanham Road with the police in pursuit and clipped a parked car. His uninsured vehicle launched across the other side of the road and hit the couple’s bike. They died almost immediately. Lovell ran away from the scene of the accident, leaving his partner to claim that she had been driving at the time.
When Lovell was tracked down and charged, the enormity of his crime became known. He had 69 previous convictions, four offences for dangerous driving, for which he was disqualified from driving completely back in 1999, only to be given a further 11 convictions for driving while disqualified.
Mr Skidmore continued: “At first it seemed inconceivable that someone with so many convictions, so many disqualifications, could have been allowed to kill in this way. How had the justice system allowed this man to persistently slip through the net, treating the police, the courts, and the laws of this land with contempt? Perhaps there will never be an answer, but the fact that we have to even ask these questions highlights the need for the law to be changed.”
The MP said he had attended a vigil a week after the couple’s death and promised Ross’s father, Edwin, that he would do all he could to ensure the family achieved justice.
Lovell pleaded guilty to two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and one of driving while disqualified and got the maximum possible sentence of 14 years, but as a result of his guilty plea, the sentence was cut by a third to 10 years and six months. Pending good behaviour, he could be released after six years.
Mr Skidmore said recent figures on convictions for death by dangerous driving offences spoke for themselves. In 2011, out of 408 people convicted for causing death or bodily harm while driving dangerously, or under the influence of drink or drugs, 153 avoided jail altogether. Five were given fines, and 63 were handed suspended sentences. Of the 255 people who went to prison, 21 were given less than six months, 104 less than two years and just 37 were given a prison sentence of over five years.
He said the law needed to be changed to reflect the added culpability of a driver who had already been disqualified and should never have been in a car in the first place, causing death by dangerous driving. In Canada, while the penalty for death by dangerous driving is 10 years, for someone who is already disqualified from driving when going behind the wheel, this rises to a life sentence.
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said last night’s debate had been “excellent” and pledged to consider the “thoughtful” ideas brought out in it.
After an emotional day of media interviews, the families of Ross and Clare were able to unwind among friends at the Cherry Tree in Oldland Common.
Ross’s mother said she was overwhelmed by the number of people who had turned out to be with them on such a poignant anniversary and was pleased to see so many MPs in the chamber for the debate and from the comments of other speakers it was evident that theirs was not an isolated case.
Ross’s father Edwin said that over 100 new signatures were received during the course of Monday. The family travel to Downing Street next month to hand in the petition.