Police Powers to Suspend Driving Licences Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Police Powers to Suspend Driving Licences

Christina Rees Excerpts
Monday 10th January 2022

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Stewart Hosie Portrait Stewart Hosie (in the Chair)
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Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when they are not speaking in the debate. This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind Members that they are advised by the House to have a covid lateral flow test before coming on to the estate. Could Members please give each other and staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room?

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab/Co-op)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 548682, relating to police powers to suspend driving licences.

It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship Mr Hosie. As a member of the Petitions Committee, it is an honour to open the debate. The e-petition is about Tom’s law and was created by Christina Worsfold, Tom McConnachie’s partner. The petition closed on 25 March 2021 with 104,868 signatures. It states:

“We want police officers to be able to provide a suspension notice from the moment an offender is caught drink, drug or dangerous driving until they appear in court. It would then be for the Judge to decide whether a ban continues or they are able to continue to drive again… With Tom's Law we want police officers to be able to issue a suspension notice to an offender when arrested at the Road side to stop them from driving until they attend court to protect other road users.”

I met Christina and Charlotte McConnachie, Tom’s mother, who told me of the absolutely tragic circumstances of Tom’s death., Charlotte, Christina and Christina’s mother, Sandra, are in the Public Gallery this evening. Christina and Charlotte told me that at 3 am on 24 February 2019, Tom, aged 34, was killed in a hit-and-run incident on Budshead Road in Plymouth, Devon, by a drink driver who left Tom fatally injured in the road. The driver continued his journey to Okehampton, approximately 53 miles away, where he set fire to the vehicle to destroy the evidence.

Tom was returning from a night out with friends to celebrate the forthcoming wedding in August 2019 of one of the friends, at which Tom was to be a groomsman. Tom had taken a taxi home in the early hours of the morning and was hit by Lewis Seamen, who was driving a black Kia Rio car, which he had borrowed from a friend in order to pick up this friend’s partner. The taxi driver said that he helped Tom—who he described as “happy drunk”—out of his taxi and shook hands with him. When he got back in his car, he saw Tom walking along the nearby pavement. He then saw Tom standing in the middle of the road with his arms raised high. That is when he saw a black car hit Tom. The taxi driver got out of his car to help Tom and called 999.

A witness who was out running along Budshead Road said that he saw a man talking to a taxi driver before the taxi started to pull away. Then, a car travelling at around 30 mph with high revs came from behind the runner and hit the man, who was knocked 10 or 12 feet down the road. The runner stopped to help the injured man. The police officer who gave evidence at the inquest into Tom’s death, which was held on 11 February 2021, said that the police reconstruction of the fatal collision showed that the car that hit Tom was travelling at at least 29 mph and that the driver, Mr Seaman, may have been using a mobile phone, although the police officer could not confirm or validate this.

Tom was taken to Derriford Hospital, where tragically he died from serious head injuries shortly after being admitted. Tom was much loved in his community. He was an accomplished footballer and a Liverpool football club supporter. Everyone who had the privilege to meet Tom soon became friends with him.

On 6 January 2020, Mr Seaman pleaded guilty to drink-driving, failing to stop, driving without insurance and perverting the course of justice after a collision, but not guilty to failing to report, because he attended a police station at about 11 am on 24 February 2019, approximately seven hours after Tom had been hit. Mr Seaman was not charged with causing death by dangerous driving or careless driving. In his defence, Mr Seaman said that he had drunk three cans of lager and two single whiskies at about 9 pm on 23 February. He thought he was fit to drive in the early hours of 24 February. Mr Seaman claimed that his view of the road was hampered by fog, but other witnesses at the scene who provided statements that were read out at Tom’s inquest said that the view was clear.

On 31 January 2020, in Plymouth Crown court, Mr Seaman was sentenced by Judge Paul Darlow to 10 months’ imprisonment and a driving ban of three years and five months, with an extended retest condition. The court heard that a doctor had concluded that the level of alcohol in Seaman’s system

“would have been such that it would have impaired his ability to safely drive”,

but added:

“It cannot be said that it (the level of alcohol) contributed to Mr McConnachie’s death.”

Judge Darlow said:

“I can tell you straight off that if there was a suggestion on any sensible and fair basis upon which it could be said the amount of alcohol had contributed in any way, the outcome would have been entirely different.”

He said to Mr Seaman:

“The surest thing about this case is that you will have to live with the consequences of your actions and that is something that will not go away when you have served your prison sentence.”

Mr Seaman should have served half the sentence. In fact, however, he only served three months and three weeks. Tom’s family believe that Tom’s life was worth so much more than 10 months, so much more than five months. and so much more than three months and three weeks. Tom’s family appealed against the 10-month sentence under the Government’s unduly lenient sentence scheme, but a single judge sitting in chambers decided that there were no new grounds to put the case forward to the Court of Appeal to reconsider the sentence.

Tom’s family found it extremely distressing and concerning that the offender was allowed to continue to drive from 24 February 2019 until he was eventually banned by a judge at the Crown court hearing 11 months later. They are asking for police to be given powers to suspend a driver’s licence when the suspect provides a positive drink or drugs test over the legal limit until that suspect attends court, when the judge can decide whether the driving ban will continue.

Tom’s family told me that it was disclosed at the Crown court hearing that Mr Seaman had previous drink-driving offences. He had been banned for 18 months, which was subsequently reduced to 10 months after he completed a driver awareness course. Tom’s family believe that Mr Seaman had not learned from his previous driving ban and that being able to drive is not a human right, but a privilege. If someone abuses that privilege, it should be taken away from day one.

Tom’s family told me that many families in the same situation, where an offender has been allowed to drive while an investigation is ongoing, have pledged their support. They have also been contacted by police officers from across the UK who support Tom’s law because of the need to protect the public and save lives. Tom’s family want laws regarding driving offences to be toughened, and they want zero tolerance. They have worked closely with the Saltern family, who are campaigning for Ryan’s law. I had the privilege to open the debate on Ryan’s law, on behalf of the Petitions Committee, in this Chamber on 15 November 2021.

Tom’s family want to thank all the people who tried to help Tom: the taxi driver, the runner who gave Tom CPR at the scene, the police, the paramedics, and the staff at Derriford Hospital. They extend their sincere gratitude to SCARD, the Support and Care After Road Death and Injury charity.

The Department for Transport produced a UK Government response to the petition on 11 February 2021. It stated that,

“Turning to the suggestion that in certain circumstances a driving ban should be imposed pending investigation and trial, under the Bail Act 1976, the police can impose bail conditions for particular purposes, one of which is to ensure there is no further offence committed while on bail. A driving ban as a condition of police bail may be appropriate for some cases. Decisions on when to use these powers are operational matters for the police, and the rights of a defendant, not yet convicted, and the potential benefits to public safety from reducing the risk of further offences have to be balanced.”

I will be grateful if the Minister answers some questions about the current law, and about statistics concerning pre-charge bail and released under investigation—known as RUI. How many alleged suspects have been released on pre-charge bail from all police forces since 2017 for the following periods: up to 28 days; 29 days to three months; three months to six months; six months to 12 months; and over 12 months? How many alleged suspects, released on pre-charge bail for the periods I referred to, have had a driving ban imposed as a condition of that bail? How many alleged suspects have been released on RUI for the periods I referred to? Has RUI been successful in its aim of reducing the number of alleged suspects being released repeatedly on bail? Has RUI been overused by overstretched police forces so that complex cases are shelved because simpler cases have a better prospect of conviction, with the unintended consequence that alleged victims and suspects do not receive regular case updates, and so are left in limbo for months or years?

I hope the Minister has listened this evening to the requests of the petitioner. Will she consider introducing the power for police to immediately suspend a suspect’s driving licence in the circumstances set out in Tom’s law? Finally, will she meet Christina and Tom’s family to discuss the matter further? Tom’s family are still seeking justice.

--- Later in debate ---
Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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I thank hon. Gentleman for making those points. He will understand that I am not the roads Minister, and I am responding on the behalf of the roads Minister, Baroness Vere of Norbiton. Officials in the Department will be listening closely to what he says and will endeavour to take that into account. He is correct to mention a consultation; a call for evidence will be taken forward.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees
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I thank the Minister for her magnanimous delivery, which is very measured. However, I have trouble with three things. First, if someone is released under investigation is that under guidance rather than under statute? Secondly, she referred to the data for which I asked—is that because it is not collected nationally, or because separate police forces do not have the IT or the staff to do it? Thirdly, I have a problem with RUI as opposed to police bail. The Minister must be aware of the tragic case of Kay Richardson, who was murdered by her estranged husband after he was released under investigation. He had previous domestic abuse convictions, but bail conditions might have protected her.

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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I am afraid I cannot answer the wider questions on RUI. When I asked for the information, I was led to understand that it was not collected, which is why I am seeking further information through the courts system. We will get that information and I will endeavour to respond to the hon. Lady on those specific requests as soon as I can.

I thank hon. Members again for raising this important issue and for the campaign for Tom’s law.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees
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I thank Members for their contributions, and give special thanks to the two Plymouth MPs who represent Christina and Tom’s families and have served them well in this debate: my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer). Most of all, I thank Christina and Tom’s family for campaigning for Tom’s law, so that other families will not have to suffer the grief and injustice that they have gone through for nearly three years.

When I met Christina, Charlotte and Sandra this afternoon, Christina reminded me that on 24 February this year it will be the third anniversary of Tom’s tragic death. They are still suffering. On behalf of Christina, Charlotte and Sandra, I thank the Minister for confirming that Baroness Vere will meet with them. I look forward to receiving in writing the statistics that I asked for. Thank you.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petition 548682, relating to police powers to suspend driving licences.