May 31, 2011

Should we listen to our American Cousins?

They were almost identical cases, 3,000 miles apart, each costing the lives of two young people killed by a drunk, speeding driver.

Dominic Hartley and Emily Lewis, both 21, were mown down and killed after landing dream jobs at a summer camp in America last June.

And in the UK, Mark Crompton, 20, and his 19-year-old girlfriend Jodie Brown died instantly when a Jaguar hit them at more than 100mph.

But it is not only simple ­geography that separates the shocking deaths.

For while in both cases the drivers were jailed for their crimes, their ­families say their punishments expose an inadequacy in ­the British judicial system.

While Dominic and Emily’s killer, Peter Goldblatt, 40, got 25 years in a case that took just six months to reach US courts, relatives of Mark and Jodie had to wait almost three years for justice, and were horrified when Mary Butres, 49, was given just over seven and a half years.

Mark’s mother Beverley Crompton, from Swinstead, Lincs, says: “I was so angry when I learned they’d been killed by a drink-driver.

“I would never drink before getting behind the wheel, not even a sip.

“But for this woman to ­receive such a tiny sentence for taking two lives – where’s the punishment in that? It’s just so wrong.”

The ­sentiment is echoed by charity Brake, which campaigned for a sentencing ­guideline review for causing death by dangerous driving and death by ­careless driving while under the ­influence of ­­drink or drugs.

In the UK, the maximum penalty is ­14 years. But Brake campaigns director Julie Townsend says: “It’s ­extremely rare for the ­maximum, or ­anything even close to it, to be handed down.

“Families who have had loved ones taken from them through selfish, criminal driving feel grossly let down by the criminal justice ­system. They don’t feel the punishment fits the crime and its consequences.”

Mark and Jodie were on the A1 in May 2007 when their Ford Fiesta hit ­water and skidded into the ­central ­reservation. But as they walked away from the car – with Jodie’s older brother Nick, 39 – they were hit by company director Butres, who had lost control of business partner ­John Nichols’ Jaguar XJ8 after a boozy ­day out. Witnesses said the car came at Mark and Jodie “like a bullet”.

The tragic pair were thrown 50 feet and landed on the opposite ­carriageway.

Nick – who survived the smash but needed eight operations to fix his broken leg, ribs, arm and shoulder – says: “I still wake up in the night and see Jodie and Mark lying in the road, dying.

“I believe a life for a life – if you take someone’s life, then yours should be taken. Nichols was so arrogant after the accident that I wanted to hit him.

“Mark and Jodie were dead and his ­attitude to me was ‘at least you’re OK’. He couldn’t see the seriousness of what he’d done by lending Butres his car and with a four-year sentence in an open prison, ­I doubt that’s changed.”

The Jaguar’s data recorder tagged ­Butres’ speed at 113mph. She had shared a bottle and a half of wine with Nichols before driving back home from a day out at ­Nottingham Racecourse.

She admitted causing death by dangerous driving.

Millionaire packing firm boss Nichols – who denied the same offence but was found guilty – had allowed her to drive because he had “drunk the majority”.

Driving instructor Beverley, 47, recalls: “I remember pacing around the hospital car park and my husband Nick coming out and shaking his head.

“Mark was gone. I was devastated. It was only later that I learned Jodie had been killed, too. I just couldn’t ­believe they were both dead, it didn’t seem real. It makes you wonder what you have to do to get the maximum sentence.

“It seems two lives are only worth a seven-and-a-half year sentence. Do you have to kill four? A coachload?”

In a similar case, Dominic Hartley, of Bredon, Worcs, landed the job of a lifetime as part of his ­adventure sports ­management course at Swansea University.

Familiar with the US from family trips, Dominic was keen to spend his year-long placement on the other side of the ­Atlantic, and secured work at Echo Lake summer camp in Warrensburg, New York.

His mother Bernie, 53, a community midwife, explains: “He’d been there a couple of weeks and was having the time of his life.

“We’d had emails and he’d told us he was ‘living the dream’. His managers thought he was a natural ­born leader.

“Then one evening, my husband Andrew told me police ­had called from America – Dominic had been killed by a drink-driver.

“I didn’t believe it was true, ­I was ­convinced that they’d made a mistake.

“We then switched on the news and there it was – the story was already ­breaking on the television.

“We were destroyed – you say goodbye to your son thinking he’s going to come home – and then he doesn’t.”

Peter Goldblatt was in a 4X4, one and a half times the drink-drive limit, when he ploughed into ­Dominic and Emily as they stood with friends.

Dominic died at the scene and Emily later died in hospital.

Bernie says: “It was five days before we heard from the British Embassy and two weeks before the coroner got in touch. The British ­mentality was ‘can’t do’ – we were appalled.

“By comparison, the A­merican system was ­incredible. We were told Goldblatt would be dealt with within six months – and he was.

“Sentencing here is ­rubbish. A few ­25-year jail terms would soon give people a wake-up call.

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