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Callum Wark (Sentencing of Foreign Drivers)

Volume 587: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2014

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Gavin Barwell.)

Members on both sides of the House will have experienced incredibly difficult cases in their constituency advice surgeries, but for me, few experiences have been as difficult as meeting my constituents Joanne and Robert Wark from Swillington in May this year.

Joanne and Robert came to talk to me about their son Callum. They described 3 March 1994, the day Callum was born, as the proudest day of their lives; he was a gift that completed their world. People say that a baby’s character shines a light on the adult whom the baby will become, and that was certainly true of Callum. This happy, well- behaved toddler grew up to be a kind, gentle person, and a thoughtful young man who loved his parents and grandparents dearly. As a child, Callum would regularly visit his gran and granddad, and was always eager to help with jobs around their house and garden. Joanne and Robert did a first-rate job in bringing up a child of whom any parent would be proud, a child of compassion and profound generosity.

Callum’s school reports talk of a child who did not always find school work easy, but always worked hard for every educational achievement. The phrase “a pleasure to teach” appeared regularly in his school reports. His family told me of a school sports day when a five-year-old Callum, already sports mad, stood on the starting line of a race that he was the favourite to win. After the klaxon had fired and halfway through the race, he turned around to see his friend—a friend with learning difficulties—standing rigid on the starting line. Callum turned around, ran back, and helped his friend to the finishing line. He lost that race, but he won many more after that.

Callum attended Brigshaw high school, an outstanding comprehensive school near Allerton Bywater in my constituency. On reaching the age of 16, he secured a part-time job at the well-known Strikes garden centre on Swillington Common, and decided that he wanted to go on to do an apprenticeship—to learn a skill for life, and then begin a career. He later secured a job locally, at the Wincanton warehouse. That job was a stop-gap, and while doing it he applied for many apprenticeships. He did not do too well in maths at school, but he needed it for the apprenticeships for which he was applying, so he took it upon himself to enrol on additional maths courses, which he attended on his days off.

I am sure the House will agree that Callum’s work ethic and self-motivation were qualities that we would wish to see in all young adults in Britain today. Just as I had to, Callum worked hard and saved up so that he could afford and insure his first car. He cherished that new-found freedom, as new drivers do, and his new car became his pride and joy. When I met Joanne and Robert for the first time, I noted that Callum’s placid, permanently selfless nature seemed quite uncommon among teenagers today. They were quick to assure me that Callum had “the usual teenage tantrums”, but they were equally quick to add that “he never caused us or anyone else any trouble.”

At 2.47 in the afternoon of 1 March this year, two days before his 20th birthday, Callum was killed when his Renault Clio was hit by a heavy goods vehicle on the A162 between Ledsham and Fairburn, just outside my constituency. The driver of that heavy goods vehicle, a Bulgarian national called Stoyan Andonov Stoyanov, was found to be under the influence of alcohol. He was jailed for just seven years, but is likely to serve only half that sentence, and was banned from driving in the UK for 10 years. Let me put that in context. In 2024, when Callum should have been celebrating his 30th birthday—perhaps with a family of his own, and a good career—his killer could be driving on UK roads again, enjoying all the freedoms of life that his reckless actions took away from Callum.

At the end of my initial meeting with Callum’s parents in Garforth library last May, Joanne turned to me and, with little hope left in her voice, thanked me—not for my offer of support, but for doing something that no one else had done. No one else had asked to hear about Callum the individual: the son, the grandson, the much-loved friend, the innocent teenager enthusiastic about the excitements of the life that he had yet to experience. Callum was not merely a number, nor is he now merely a road traffic fatality statistic. Those who knew him had little doubt that he would one day go on to great things, and today we can create a legacy in his memory. We can give his parents justice, and give a meaning to his untimely death by making an amendment to the law in the name of Callum Wark.

Stoyan Andonov Stoyanov was found to be more than three times over the legal drink-drive limit and admitted to drinking a full bottle of spirits in the 24 hours before the crash. Despite this, he knowingly placed himself behind the wheel of his heavy goods vehicle. There may have been no malice aforethought in his actions, but my constituents and hundreds of campaigners who have signed a petition believe that such actions certainly constitute unlawful act manslaughter. Those calling for stricter sentencing for drink-drivers who kill argue that the deterrent is not great enough. According to the west Yorkshire-based road safety charity, Brake, evidence suggests that the current system to tackle repeat drink-driving is not working: one in eight drink-drivers does it repeatedly, and as many as three in 10 high-risk offenders reoffend. Repeat offending is one of the major drink-driving issues, yet the penalties are the same no matter how many times an individual reoffends.

In 2004, the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving when under the influence of alcohol or drugs was increased to 14 years. However, criminal justice statistics recently published by Brake show that fewer than three in five drink-drivers who kill receive a sentence of more than five years in prison. It is my understanding that a Sentencing Council review is soon to take place and therefore, on behalf of my constituents and all victims of death by drink-driving, I call on the Ministry of Justice to review charges under the Road Traffic Act 1991 and introduce a strict minimum sentence—an amendment to the law, in the name of Callum Wark—to ensure that those guilty of causing death while under the influence of alcohol or drugs serve a stricter minimum sentence in custody.

I dare say that nobody can begin to understand the emotional torment and heartbreak of the families of victims of road traffic fatalities. There is little one can say to offer comfort in those circumstances, but for my constituents, the difficulty of that experience was only made worse by the insensitivity of the Crown Prosecution Service, which, more than anything else, affirmed to my constituents that in the eyes of the CPS—and certainly of their CPS solicitor, Sarah Nelson—Callum was just another number, a statistic. Charities such as Brake offer fantastic support services to the victims of crime, and I know Members across the House will want to support their 17th annual road safety week on 17 November. However, although charities perform a vital role in bereavement support, from the experiences of my constituents, the same cannot be said for the CPS. This may not be the case across the board, and Members might know of cases where their constituents received excellent support from CPS lawyers, but I can only speak from the information relayed to me by my constituents, which showed that support for and understanding of victims’ families is desperately deficient. Perhaps the CPS might therefore look at additional training for those acting on behalf of those in bereavement.

Justice is often sought as a comfort. It is sought after the most horrific of events, but it rarely delivers the sense of closure that those who seek it desire. Justice is not about compensation; real justice is knowing that the killer of one’s child receives a custodial sentence befitting their crime. More than that, justice should be about triggering change: it should be a deterrent to prevent these terrible incidents from happening to another innocent victim.

Callum’s killer was a Bulgarian national, a European citizen. In recent months, there has been much discussion in this House and across my constituency of the advantages and disadvantages of the European Union. For now, at least, Britain is a member of that Union, and my constituents would expect the UK to use its position within it to bring about new measures to protect British citizens in the UK and in Europe. At present, there is no mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between EU member states, other than that between the UK and Ireland. In short, despite a 10-year ban from driving on UK roads, in three years’ time Mr Stoyanov could return to Bulgaria and resume driving anywhere within the European economic area. With 1.8 million Britons living and working in Europe, he will remain a threat to British citizens abroad, despite a 10-year driving ban in the UK.

On the top left-hand corner of my UK driving licence is the flag of the European Union. It suggests that it is an EU-wide driving licence, in a standard format recognisable by officials in all EU member states. That symbol is meant to make it harder for drivers banned in one country to carry on driving undetected in another, yet in practice it is meaningless.

According to the European Union’s mission statement, its second priority is

“to promote and protect democracy and universal rights in Europe”,

but with rights must come responsibility, and it cannot be right that a foreign national sentenced in the UK and banned from driving here can return to his native country—a country within the European Union—and avoid a ban imposed in UK courts. If the EU sees fits to protect universal rights in Europe, surely there must be an obligation on member states to ensure that responsibilities are universal, too. For without collective responsibilities, what is the Union but a talking shop of ideologies? On behalf of my constituents, I urge Ministers to open renegotiations with the European Commission, with a view to reaching mutual recognition of driving disqualifications across member states.

When sentencing Stoyan Andonov Stoyanov at York Crown court earlier this year, the judge indicated that the court would apply for a deportation order on completion of a custodial sentence. My constituents expect that this order will be granted and the individual deported, yet guidelines on the deportation of foreign national offenders under section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007 highlight a discrepancy between nationals of countries within and nationals of countries outside the European economic area. For example, under present deportation threshold criteria, non-EEA nationals sentenced to 12 months or more are considered for deportation by the UK Border Agency, whereas deportation is considered for EEA nationals only if they are sentenced to 24 months or more, unless the offence relates to drugs, sex, violence or “other serious criminal activity”.

For the purposes of protecting British citizens at home, what is the difference between a foreign national offender from Bulgaria and, for example, a foreign national offender from a few miles over the border in Turkey? Is a criminal from Burgas any less of a criminal than one from Dereköy? Does membership of the European economic area suddenly make a member state’s criminals a lesser threat to UK citizens than those from another country? I think not. A foreign national convicted in a UK court should be subject to the same deportation threshold criteria irrespective of whether their home country is a member state of some international economic community. My constituents and I therefore urge Ministers to review deportation criteria for EEA foreign national offenders and decrease the deportation threshold to a sentence of 12 months, thereby removing the nepotism toward nationals from within the European economic area.

I make that request because it was evident from the court case that Callum’s killer had no better understanding of British law or customs merely because he was a foreign national from within the European Union. In court, it was evident that Mr Stoyanov knew little English, either to speak or understand. He claimed to know nothing about the highway code or about UK drink-driving laws. A broader political debate arises from these issues, but this debate is not the place to air those thoughts. It is evident that Mr Stoyanov and the foreign haulage company he worked for had no knowledge of, and had made no effort to understand, the UK highway code and our drink-drive laws before he entered the UK.

Let us be clear that the foreign haulage firm sending its heavy goods vehicles across Europe and into the United Kingdom has a duty of care to ensure that its employees understand the laws of the road in the UK. It says much about the kind of company that Mr Stoyanov worked for that the only interest it showed as regards the death of my constituent was in its repeat inquires about securing the return of its expensive heavy goods vehicle. Perhaps when Ministers next meet with Commissioners in the European Union, they might wish to address this issue and encourage member states to look at the effectiveness and content of assessments for the distribution of large goods vehicle licences across Europe.

Finally, for reasons that I have discussed, my constituents believe a review of sentencing of convicted foreign drivers is desperately needed. I do not believe that stricter custodial sentencing in the UK is enough to deter others from driving while drunk. For convicted foreign drivers such as Mr Stoyanov, driving is their livelihood. Sentencing guidelines, together with the absence of restrictions preventing those subject to a deportation order from one day reapplying for entry to the UK, mean that there is no reason why Callum’s killer cannot be back driving his HGV on UK roads in 10 years’ time. The United Kingdom needs to send a strong message to foreign nationals who choose to ignore, or plead ignorance of, our drink-drive laws. My constituents therefore ask Ministers to consider, when they review sentencing guidelines, imposing a lifetime ban on driving in the UK for foreign nationals convicted of causing death while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate. I had a similar experience in my constituency; one of my constituents was killed by a foreign driver who had no insurance and was over the drink-drive limit. The hon. Gentleman has highlighted the need for legislative change, for punishment through the courts, and for Europe to work with the Minister here in the United Kingdom to ensure that those things happen. For those reasons, I wholly support what he says.

I am most grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support, and I know that the Minister will have heard his comments as well.

Joanne and Robert asked me to share these words with the House today:

“Callum was our only child; he was our world and our lives are now meaningless with no future to look forward to. We will never know if Callum would have been blessed with a family of his own, or if one day we could be a Grandma and Granddad ourselves. We will never get the chance to see Callum grow into the fine young man we know he would have been and we will never see our child achieve his goals and dreams. Next year was going to be a big year for family celebrations; Callum would have been 21 and we are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, but now our hearts and world have been torn apart and our lives destroyed. Yet in a few years, Callum’s killer will return to his family in Bulgaria and his life will carry on. Our lives stopped on 1 March.”

As their Member of Parliament, nothing I can do or say in this Chamber today will restore happiness for my constituents Joanne and Robert Wark, but we can restore their faith in the criminal justice system by making Callum’s death the reason for a stricter minimum sentence for causing death while under the influence of alcohol; for better victim support and understanding of bereavement within the Crown Prosecution Service; for the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications within the European Union; for the regulation of foreign haulage companies driving in the UK; for the deportation of convicted foreign nationals; and for a lifetime UK driving ban for foreign nationals convicted of causing death while driving under the influence of alcohol. It is too late to change what happened to my constituent on 1 March this year, but it is not too late to bring about justice for Callum Wark and make his untimely death the motivation for change.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) for securing this important debate and highlighting the issues surrounding the tragic death of Callum Wark. In particular, I thank him for putting on record his comments about Callum’s personality in the House of Commons today. I am sure that others will also have been particularly touched by the story of Callum turning back during a race that he probably would have won to help a friend with learning disabilities. That speaks volumes about the kind of fine young man he clearly was.

Any death on our roads is a tragedy. Road deaths lead to unimaginable pain for the families and relatives of the victims. Such deaths are made worse when they are caused by bad driving under the influence of alcohol and could have been avoided. It is particularly troubling that Callum was only 19 and had his whole life ahead of him. Most Members will know of similar cases in their own constituencies—we have already heard from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) in that regard—but I hope that they will appreciate that I do not want to go into the details of their individual cases during this short debate.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell has said, Callum Wark was killed by a lorry driver, a Bulgarian national, who was found to be driving dangerously and well over the drink-drive limit. The lorry driver entered a guilty plea to a number of offences including causing death by dangerous driving. He was sentenced to seven years and eight months’ imprisonment on 20 March this year. He was also banned from driving for 10 years.

My hon. Friend raised a number of issues that arise from this case and other similar cases, which I will try to deal with in my remarks. It is, of course, right that our independent courts should decide on the sentence for an offence. It is the court that has the full knowledge of the case and the offender, and it is best placed to decide on a just and appropriate sentence. It is also important to remember that we have sentencing guidelines that the courts are required to follow—unless it would be unjust to do so—which lead to greater transparency in the level of sentence likely to be imposed and increased consistency in sentencing practice. For certain offences, the Attorney-General can refer a case to the Court of Appeal on the basis that the sentence is unduly lenient—that includes cases involving causing death by dangerous driving. Anyone can make representations to the Attorney-General to consider making such a reference. There is a 28-day time limit to appeal against an unduly lenient sentence, and in this case no appeal was lodged.

In keeping with the current law and guidelines, the driver in this case had his sentence reduced for pleading guilty to the offence at an early stage. The reduction for an early guilty plea is not just about saving money and court time; it is designed to ensure that victims, their families and witnesses are not required to relive dreadful events in court. I pay tribute to North Yorkshire police and others in the criminal justice system in North Yorkshire for enabling this case to be concluded with sentencing occurring less than three weeks after the incident. As the police themselves have noted, the family were spared the trauma of sitting through a protracted court hearing.

My hon. Friend also raised concerns that the offender in this case will be released at the halfway point in his sentence. As my hon. Friend will know, release before the end of sentence is not new. Since legislation was introduced in 1967, successive Governments have maintained that approach, and the current arrangements are contained in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. In most driving cases, a standard determinate sentence will be imposed by the court, and the 2003 Act provides that such prisoners must be released automatically as soon as they have served half their sentence. The second part of a custodial sentence—the licence period—is an important part of the sentence, as it provides for the supervised transition of an offender into the community and the prospect of recall to prison for breach of the licence. If there were no licence period, offenders could be in prison for many years and then be released with no support or supervision, which would increase the risk of reoffending. If a foreign national prisoner is to be removed from the UK, it would make little sense to impose licence conditions to ensure an offender could be supervised in the community, given that they will not be released into our community. That is why after the period spent in custody for the purpose of punishment of the offence, we seek, where possible, to remove foreign national prisoners to their own country.

The driver in this case is a foreign national and, as a convicted offender, may be subject to deportation at the end of his sentence. I am aware that the judge in this case made a recommendation that the offender be deported after serving his sentence. The Government are committed to ensuring that foreign national offenders, including those committing serious driving offences, should be removed from the UK whenever possible. In some cases, offenders may serve some of their prison sentence in their own country under a prisoner transfer agreement. In other cases, an offender may be released from custody in order that they can be removed from the UK. A foreign national prisoner can be returned to their home country up to 270 days before the halfway point of their sentence, and we need to strike a balance between ensuring that foreign nationals are removed to their own country and ensuring that they are properly punished for the offences committed in this country.

On the wider issues of penalties, it is worth stressing that although sentencing is a matter for the courts, setting the framework that the courts work within is for Parliament. This Government want to see maximum penalties that allow the courts to respond to the full range of cases they are likely to face. The offence in this case, causing death by dangerous driving, already has a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. The same maximum is available for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs. Where there is a failing in the law we have moved to remedy it. In the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 we created a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, with a five-year maximum penalty.

More recently, in response to the awful case of Paul Stock who was killed by a disqualified driver, we have, in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, proposed an increased maximum penalty for those disqualified drivers who kill or cause serious injury. The current maximum sentence is two years for causing death, but will increase to 10 years when those provisions become law.

I welcome what the Minister has said about more stringent and stronger penalties. I also want to hear whether he has had any correspondence or discussions with the relevant Minister in Northern Ireland as it is a devolved matter, but I want to ensure that there is some consistency in punishment and that we are, across the whole United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland, working towards the same goal. Will the Minister tell us whether that is happening?

I am not aware of any communication between UK Ministers and Ministers in Northern Ireland. I will ask the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, within whose responsibilities this issue lies, to respond directly to the hon. Gentleman.

We recognise that it is important to respond quickly where there is a clear gap in the law or where a maximum penalty is clearly inadequate. We also need to ensure that there is a consistent and proportionate sentencing framework. That is why earlier this year we announced our intention to look, across the board, at the maximum penalties for offences involving bad driving. That review, which looks at a number of issues that many Members of this House have already raised, is currently under way and being conducted by the Ministry of Justice working with the Department for Transport. I am particularly pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), is here on the Bench with me this afternoon. The review will focus on the maximum penalties and gaps in current offences. It will soon be taking the views of victims, families of victims, road users and criminal justice professionals. I do not want to pre-empt any findings, but I hope that the review will lead to recommendations that the next Government can act on in the early stages of the next Parliament.

In addition to the custodial sentence imposed in this case, the offender was also banned from driving for 10 years. He was also ordered to complete an extended driving test before he can regain a licence to drive in the UK. Driving disqualification and extended testing requirements are an important element of dealing with drivers who kill and are a mandatory requirement.

The length of a driving ban is for the court to set. Guidance already makes it clear that the court should consider the time spent in custody so that the ban is not extinguished or severely diminished by the time the offender is released. Provisions in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 reinforce that message by placing a statutory duty on courts to extend driving bans when imposing a custodial sentence. We have recently sought to make amendments to that legislation in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to enable those important provisions to be commenced as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend raised concerns about the Crown Prosecution Service and its understanding of bereavement. Let me say that in any case involving a death, the CPS should be sensitive to the need to minimise the extra distress criminal proceedings are likely to cause the victim’s family and friends. The CPS guidance on that is very clear. In murder, manslaughter and fatal road traffic cases, the CPS will provide an enhanced service to family members. In such cases, the prosecutor should offer to meet the victim’s family from an early stage to explain how the case will be handled and what is expected to happen at each court hearing. The prosecutor will also explain the likely sentence should the defendant be convicted. The prosecutor will inform the victim's family that they can make a victim personal statement, and he will bring the statement to the attention of the court. If my hon. Friend has a specific concern about the handling of this case, I would be happy to pass that on to the Director of Public Prosecutions who has responsibility for the CPS.

On the question of mutual recognition of driving bans across the EU, I should say that such a system is in place with the Republic of Ireland, but not, as my hon. Friend says, for other countries in the EU. We agree, in principle, that co-operation over disqualifications between member states, other than Ireland, is desirable. Any EU member state may wish to enter into similar arrangements to those we have with Ireland in the future. It is important to understand that a practical and effective system of mutual recognition across the EU would have to be ratified by the vast majority of member states. In the case of the existing 1998 convention, only a small number of states have ratified. I should stress that the offender in this case will not be able to drive in the UK as a result of the driving disqualification for a decade.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of deportation of foreign national offenders. The Home Office considers for deportation all foreign national offenders who are sentenced to a period of imprisonment following a criminal conviction. For European economic area nationals, the deportation consideration process takes account of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006. Deportation will normally be pursued where the person is sentenced to two years’ imprisonment or more, as in this case, or 12 months’ imprisonment for a sexual, drug or violent offence. Where an EEA offender receives a shorter sentence, deportation will be pursued where it can be justified in accordance with the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations, taking into account the particular circumstances of the case. For non-EEA nationals, there is a duty for the Secretary of State to deport a non-EEA foreign national who is sentenced to a period of imprisonment of 12 months or more.

My hon. Friend will know that the regulations covering cross-border haulage firms are detailed, and are governed in the UK by the Department for Transport. In short, those who operate commercial vehicles on international journeys will need a number of authorisations and permits. The authorisations will depend on the countries in which the vehicle is to travel, but include driver certificates of professional competence, community licences and a standard international operator’s licence. These requirements include regulating the amount of time a driver spends at the wheel through the EU drivers’ hours rule, as well as a requirement for an EU driver to have undertaken the certificate of professional competence. The principal aim here is to ensure better trained drivers across the EU, who are up to date with current legislation. As my hon. Friend will realise, this is a technical area of regulation, and I would be happy to pass on specific concerns raised by my hon. Friend to my colleagues in the Department for Transport.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of the length of a driving ban and suggested that there should be a lifetime ban for those who cause death. The length of a driving ban is a decision for the judge in the individual case. In some cases a driving ban of a specific length provides an incentive for offenders to comply with their sentence in order that in time they can regain their licence. Where offenders are given a life ban, they may be more likely to flout that ban and drive illegally and irresponsibly. But I do recognise the point that my hon. Friend makes in regard to those who cause death, especially by dangerous drink-driving. We will be looking at the current sentencing practice and driving ban lengths as part of the driving penalties review, which will report early next year. I suggest that my hon. Friend sends a copy of this debate and a submission to that review, and that will be most welcome.

Let me conclude by again thanking my hon. Friend for securing this short but important debate, and by offering my own condolences to the family and friends of Callum Wark. Mercifully, the number of people dying on our roads continues to fall, aided by better cars, better roads, more awareness of road safety, better policing and advances in emergency medicine. But I know that that will be of no consolation to the family of Callum and his many friends.

But the criminal justice system also has an important role to play in dealing with those who continue to drive badly and put themselves and others at risk. The Government have already shown their willingness to ensure that the courts have the powers they need to deal effectively with drivers who kill or cause serious injury to other road users. We have created new offences where there was a gap in the law, and we have increased maximum penalties where the courts were frustrated by a lack of sentencing power. We are now actively reviewing the sentencing framework for the range of driving offences. We want to ensure that sentences are consistent and proportionate, but that the law also ensures that those who kill innocent people, such as Callum Wark, are punished appropriately.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.