Parents of Sunderland teenager killed by danger driver fight for tougher sentences

Stephen Burke, whose daughter Sarah Jane was tragically knocked down and killed last September.
Stephen Burke, whose daughter Sarah Jane was tragically knocked down and killed last September.
Have your say

SARAH Jane Burke was just 17 when she was cruelly snatched away from her loving family in a senseless act of dangerous driving by a Sunderland taxi driver.

Now her parents Stephen and Theresa want to ensure it does not happen again and plan to fight for tougher sentences in their daughter’s memory.

The family is in the process of setting up a campaign with charity Road Peace for their battle, which they hope will act as a deterrent to drivers.

Stephen wants to see sentences starting from 10 years right up to similar sentences to that of manslaughter, as well as driving bans starting on release from jail.

They also plan to meet with Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson face-to-face to ask the reasons why David Baillie was given a taxi licence, despite his appalling driving record.

Baillie, 40, had eight previous convictions for driving while disqualified, and had been banned from the roads nine times, when the council granted him his Hackney licence, just days before the tragedy.

The authority has since said that its regulatory committee was following guidance issued by the Department for Transport, which suggest applicants be “free of driving or motoring convictions for a period of between one to three years.”

All Baillie’s convictions pre-date 2000.

“We are very saddened by the response of Sunderland Council to the issue of taxi licences,” Stephen, 49, told the Echo. “We think they know they have done wrong but won’t admit it. It would be nice to hear them say that they have made a mistake.

“Baillie has been given chance after chance. Why was this person even on the road? We truly believe that he will do the same again when he gets out.”

Baillie had been overtaking another car on the wrong side of the road as he plunged into the art student, who was crossing Ormonde Street in Barnes on her way home from Sunderland College last September. Sarah, who has an older sister, Melissa, 20, died from her injuries five days later.

Baillie, of Magdalene Place, Sunderland, denied causing her death by dangerous driving, but was found guilty by a jury at Newcastle Crown Court. He was locked up for seven years, of which he will serve half.

“You read about things like this all the time, but until it happens to you, you can’t imagine it. It’s just horrific. It’s like we are in this bubble. It’s the likes of us that suffer, law-abiding citizens. We’ve been driving for 50 years between us, not having got a single point and something like this happens, it does seem 

“It won’t bring Sarah back, but there has to be a deterrent. Driving bans start when a prison sentence starts, it’s just not common sense.

“There were many thousands of lives lost like this before this happened to us. And until something is done, there will sadly be many more thousands. But it all seems to be falling on deaf ears.”

The family is slowly trying coming to terms with life without Sarah, whom Stephen describes as ‘a typical teenage girl’.

“She had her moments,” he said. “And she was very, very funny. She was very intelligent, she was getting distinctions in her art and was hoping to move into fashion journalism further down the line, and I believe that she would have done it.”

He added: “At the moment it’s still early days, we are still getting over the court case. You have your ups and downs, good days and bad. Theresa is finding it very difficult to get back to work as an intensive care nurse. We are trying to get our lives back together, but it will never be the same again.”