Carol King is working on a campaign after a motorist who admitted causing the death of her partner by dangerous driving was sent to prison.
Richie Jordan was 33 when he died in a collision on the A19 at Houghton in August 2019. He suffered fatal injuries after being thrown from a speeding Mercedes, in which he was a passenger.
The driver of the Mercedes, Mark Thompson, of Seaton Crescent, Seaham, was jailed for six years and eight months in August 2021, after admitting charges of causing death and serious injury by dangerous driving.
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He was still able to drive until he was sent to prison – around two years after the collision which claimed Richie’s life.
At the sentencing hearing, Newcastle Crown Court also heard that Thompson, 43, “had a history of driving offences”.
As Carol continues to navigate life without the father of her two children – Quinn, four, and two-year-old Gray, who was born after Richie died – she’s hoping her campaign will bring comfort to others who find themselves in the devastating position of losing a loved one.
Carol wants to see a change in process whereby motorists suspected of being at fault in a serious or fatal collision, whether this is through careless or dangerous driving, drinking alcohol or taking drugs, have their licences temporarily suspended while an investigation continues.
There is currently a gap in procedure, she says, where a person’s licence is not revoked until there is a relevant criminal conviction.
Carol, of East Herrington, told the Echo: "When you are told someone can carry on with their life as normal when yours has been turned upside down in an instant, how is that person able to carry on driving when they have ultimately killed someone, while driving?”
"What we want is, following the death or serious injury of a person on our roads, a suspension notice of some sort.”
In addition to his prison sentence, Thompson was given a three-year driving ban which will begin when he is released.
The court also heard that he was over the drink and drug-drive limits at the time of the crash.
He tested positive for a type of cocaine and recorded 118mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood. The legal limit is 80mg.
Working to support other families
Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, has been working alongside Carol on this issue.
She has been looking into how a licence suspension could be actioned if a person involved in a serious collision is found to be beyond the prescribed limit for alcohol or drugs while behind the wheel.
The absence of this process, the MP says, is a real “cause for concern”.
Ms Phillipson said: “It’s horrifying to think you could have caused a serious incident because you are under the influence of drink or drugs, and still be driving around for many months.”
Carol says she sees this change as being akin to someone having their licence temporarily revoked for the failure of a roadside eye-test.
In 2013, the Government announced a procedural change which meant drivers could see their licences removed within hours of police deeming their eyesight inadequate.
Police forces cannot disqualify someone from driving – but this change meant officers could notify the DVLA electronically if a motorist had failed a roadside eye-test.
A person’s licence could then be revoked by the DVLA in a matter of hours. Previously this process was done by post or fax and would take longer.
This amendment, which was a change in procedure rather than in legislation, is known as “Cassie’s Law”, in memory of a teenager who died after being hit by an elderly motorist who had previously failed a roadside eye-test, but still had his licence.
The suspension Carol is hoping for would not be punitive and instead serve as a stopgap measure until the conclusion of any investigation.
“Until you have a story like mine, you don’t see the flaws in the system,” she added.
Ms Phillipson continued: “I think Carol’s experience shows that there’s a need for change here. She’s been through a terrible ordeal and she’s focusing on this to make sure other families don’t have to go through what she’s been through. She’s shown real courage.”
Later this month, Ms Phillipson has a meeting with The Baroness Vere of Norbiton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, where she will further raise the plight of families like Carol’s.
"I want something positive to come from what’s happened, for the girls,” Carol added.
Calling for a change
In Westminster Hall this week, Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh spoke on behalf of Ms Phillipson about Carol’s case, while raising an issue from her own constituency of Mitcham and Morden.
She said: “My call is that it is wrong for somebody facing an accusation of death by dangerous driving to be allowed to continue to take to the road, while they are subject to that investigation.
"It's for the protection of others, it's for the safety of themselves and it's for the peace of mind of the bereaved family to know that the person accused of killing their loved one due to dangerous driving is not back behind a wheel."
Ms McDonagh continued: “We cannot bring lost loved ones back, but we can change the law to ensure that while [under] bail conditions, nobody accused of death by dangerous driving is back on the road until the investigation is complete. It's really that simple."
In response, Trudy Harrison MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, outlined the Government’s commitment to tackling drink and drug-driving through "tough penalties” and “rigorous enforcement”.
She explained that criminal courts have the power to impose an interim driving disqualification, in certain cases.
Police forces can also impose bail conditions on someone accused of a crime to ensure no further offences are committed while that person is on bail, Mrs Harrison added.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 will increase the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous or careless driving – while under the influence of drink or drugs – to life imprisonment.
The maximum penalty is currently 14 years – but this will change from Tuesday, June 28, Mrs Harrison said. The Act will also create a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.
She said: “With regards to any potential law changes for road traffic offences, we will need to consider the interests of victims and wider society, and the balance against the rights of suspects.”
Mrs Harrison added that the Government was “prepared to act” if any evidence received suggests a change is necessary.
Ahead of her own meeting with the Department for Transport, Ms Phillipson praised Carol for channelling her tragedy into a change which could make such a difference to so many.
The MP added: “She’s so determined to make a positive difference. Nothing she does can bring back Richie, but what she’s focusing on is making sure other families don’t go through something like this.”