>> 9 Sep 2004


By Court Hawk


Car crime and its lack of adequate punishment takes centre-stage again this week. On Monday, we had this report from BBC News Online:

A drunken barman who killed a French tourist and injured her husband by driving into their car has been jailed for six years. Trevor William Taylor, 34, from Victor Place, Belfast, admitted causing death by dangerous driving. Belfast Crown Court heard that Laurence Rossel Perez and her husband Jean were waiting to park outside a Ravenhill Road guesthouse when he ran into them in July 2002. He was five times over the alcohol limit. Taylor, who has previous convictions for drunk driving, was also banned from driving for ten years on Friday. Judge Tom Burgess told Taylor that he should have known he was incapable of driving. At the time, Taylor denied he had been drinking. He admitted that he failed to provide a specimen, but a blood sample taken from him because he claimed to have no memory of the accident showed he was five times over the legal limit. Defence QC Tim Ferris had suggested that the couple may have reversed into the path of Taylor's oncoming car, but accepted that he had been drinking at the time of the accident. He said Taylor wished to publicly apologise for the trauma he caused and was deeply remorseful.

Note that despite being five times over the limit and having previous convictions, Taylor got off with a six year sentence out of a possible maximum of ten. Another interesting question would be why it took two years to bring the case to court.

By coincidence, the next day the Lord Chancellor was visiting Northern Ireland. The campign group Families Bereaved through Car Crime met him and asked him to do something about the inadequate sentencing of car killers here. The noble lord informed them that "judges would act on a case-by-case basis". What this means is that there will be no change to the present lenient policy.

However, as noted in last week's column the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving has now been increased to fourteen years. And two new offences have been introduced which also carry a fourteen year maximum, namely "aggravated vehicle taking" and "causing death by aggravated vehicle taking". It will be interesting to see (a) if the DPP starts to use the new legislation when bringing charges and (b) if all this leads to higher average sentences against car criminals, but don't hold your breath!

Finally, I think it's long overdue for the media in all its forms to stop using the word "joyrider". Just as "shoplifters" are now rightly called "thieves" in warning notices, so "joyriders" should be referred to as "car criminals" in all cases, on the principle of calling a spade a spade.


This column is also concerned with low-level anti-social behaviour. Although much less serious than car crime, this behaviour lowers the quality of life for many and makes some people's lives a misery. Worse, it tends to be self-perpetuating because of the bad example it sets and the lowering of overall standards of behaviour in public which it causes. So it was encouraging to hear this week that Northern Ireland Railways have started to take it seriously and do something about it. Let's hope they keep up the good work now they've started. Again the story is from BBC News Online:

Sixty nine people were prosecuted in Northern Ireland for anti-social behaviour on trains in the first half of this year, Translink has revealed. The company said on Tuesday that fines totalling more than £10,000 were handed out for offences including trespassing on railway lines and being drunk and abusive. The largest single fine was more than £1,000, given for a combination of feet on seats, abusive language and threatening behaviour. Translink spokesman Mal McGreevy said the company was increasingly taking a "zero tolerance" attitude towards people who put the safety of passengers and staff at risk.

"The wide-ranging nature of the prosecutions reflect this and include suspended prison sentences, official cautions, penalty points and fines," he said. "Together we need to stamp out vandalism, anti-social behaviour and trespassing, because everyone has the right to work or travel on our trains in a pleasant environment and feel safe." Mr McGreevy said a cash reward scheme to encourage witnesses to report incidents had been successful. "The scheme works on the basis that if a member of the public, or a member of staff witnesses any incident and are prepared to give evidence in court, resulting in a person being convicted, then Translink will make a cash reward payment of up to £1,000," he said.

Perhaps the cash reward scheme could usefully be applied in other situations in our society. All suggestions welcome!


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