RORY SPEAKS ON THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND THE DEATH OF KAYDEN DUNN
I pay tribute to Ruth Smeeth for securing this debate. This is a genuinely horrifying case, and I hope I will be able slightly to express our debt of gratitude to her and to Kayden Dunn’s family for bringing this case to the House.
It begins, of course, as a terrible personal story of a little boy. Anybody looking at the photographs or hearing the hon. Lady talk about Kayden on a trampoline or in his school play will feel the horror of what happened, which is something that has ramifications for all our lives, whether or not we are parents. I am the father of a four-year-old boy and an 18-month-old boy, and I think of such incidents every time I go to the road. All of us, in different ways, will reflect on this, and I hope that all of us will reflect on the justice system and on driving.
At the heart of this is the crime committed by a young man at the wheel of a car, which led to something so horrifying as the loss of a young life. It raises for us a couple of issues that I hope to touch on before I conclude. First, the Ministry of Justice must take some practical steps to learn from Kayden Dunn’s case. The hon. Lady specifically raised the case of the probation service and what we can do on restorative justice. Restorative justice is hugely important, and it can really help the business of healing and it can really help a family, like Kayden’s family, come to terms with somebody who has committed such a crime. There have been delays in this case and, as we have explained to Kayden’s mother, part of it is due to her personal family circumstances. I believe a meeting has now taken place—on 17 November—and we will now reach out to her again to see whether there is more we can do to facilitate this.
The broader question of law, moving from the probation service to sentencing, is very important. As Jim Shannon said, there is the broader issue of how we deal with people who cause death by their actions in a motor car. We all need to remember the fundamental fact that a motor car is, in effect, a lethal weapon: it is tonnes of metal, with a powerful engine, travelling at a very great speed.
The awful truth is that recent statistics suggest that 25% of young men aged between 17 and 21 have a car crash. That is 25% of young men aged between 17 and 21 at the wheel of this lethal weapon driving carelessly or dangerously.
My heart goes out to Kayden’s family. Sadly, what we have heard tonight is not an isolated incident. The Minister talks about a car being a lethal weapon, and anybody else killing somebody with a lethal weapon would be charged with murder. Will there be any steps to change the law to make the lethal weapon of a car being driven dangerously murder?
That is probably the central question in this whole debate. The answer, of course, is that, in terms of the loss of life, it is like murder. The act has killed someone, and that life can never be given back. The difference between murder and this, of course, is in the intention of the individual, which is a very difficult thing to talk about. English law traditionally distinguishes between somebody intentionally trying to kill someone, and somebody whose acts, through recklessness in this case, have resulted in a death. One reason why we are moving to increase the penalty for causing death by dangerous driving to a life sentence is that we believe strongly that this is, if not quite murder, indistinguishable in effect from manslaughter.
There are two types of manslaughter—illegal act manslaughter and gross negligent manslaughter. We could argue that somebody at the wheel of a car killing somebody else either by speeding or drink-driving, which would be unlawful act, or simply by driving dangerously, is breaching their duty of care to other road users. Their recklessness lies in the fact that they ought to be aware, or any reasonable person would be aware, that their actions had a high likelihood of resulting in death.
There are also things we need to do on the broader issue of road safety that do not relate directly to Kayden Dunn’s case but which are important for future cases. Some good campaigns have been run in this House drawing attention to how vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians can be. Tragically, Kayden is one of almost 440 pedestrians killed this year in the UK by motor cars.
I very much welcome the debate and the fact that causing death by dangerous driving will attract a life sentence. Will the Minister say more about what will happen in cases where the result is not death but serious injury? What sentence will that attract?
The case of serious injury is another thing we have been reviewing, and we are currently looking at that issue from different directions. We have been looking at increasing the penalty for causing death by dangerous driving. Secondly, we have been looking at increasing the penalty for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. We have been looking at the issue of causing injury and the position of vulnerable road users, in particular, cyclists, of whom more than 100 are killed a year, pedestrians, of whom about 450 are killed a year, and even people on horses, of whom nearly 40 are killed a year. My hon. Friend asked about injuries, and the answer is that such a case would attract a two or three-year maximum sentence, but that is something we are examining.
I do not wish to take up too much of the House’s time, because Kayden Dunn’s case is so horrifying, and so personal to Kayden’s family and to the community in Stoke, that I almost feel it is slightly inappropriate for me, as a Minister, to reduce it to the language of the Chamber or of a policy debate. However, the issue of road safety matters to us all, and Kayden Dunn’s case gives us an opportunity to reflect on that. The truth is that in 1926 4,800 people were killed in road traffic accidents in Britain. By 1966, the number had risen to 8,000, whereas this year 1,700 people were killed. So our roads are getting safer and fewer people are getting killed. Obviously, in 1926, when more than twice as many people were killed, there were far fewer cars on roads, but 1,700 people is still far, far too many. That needs not only a legal response—it needs proper judicial sentencing and punishment for people who break the law and kill people—but practical steps. It requires us to look closely at the driving test and at whether people should be re-tested. It requires us to look at the position of professional drivers, as, sadly, quite a lot of injuries are caused by people whose jobs lead them to drive unusual numbers of hours. It leads us to look at road design, what happens on the streets and the way we set out the markings. It leads us to think about road safety campaigns for children in schools. It leads us to think about road safety for cyclists, about protective gear for cyclists and, of course, about motorcyclists, who are currently probably the second most vulnerable group on the road.
None of that can take us away from the individual case, so let me finish by saying again that the case of Kayden Dunn has been an opportunity for us all in the House to reflect, over a serious half hour, on the horror and the tragedy that lies behind the language of our law. Too often, here, we have pieces of paper and talk in an abstract way. We forget the real people—the real victims—and the fact that when somebody is killed, there is not a single victim; the ripples of that death spread through an entire family and then through an entire community.
By courageously working with her Member of Parliament to bring this case to Parliament, Kayden’s mother has made several things happen. First, to learn from Kayden’s tragic death, we must improve road safety in any way we can. Secondly, we have to look at our justice system and think about the ways in which that system is fair and whether it addresses the question of the impact of a person’s act on a victim, and balances that with questions of loss and remorse. One question raised in the debate was whether the young man who was driving the car felt the appropriate remorse. It is right that in our legal system the showing of remorse or lack of remorse can act as a mitigating or aggravating factor in the determination of the length of a sentence. That leads us back to the broader issue around extending the maximum penalties.
In the end, the tribute has to go back to Kayden Dunn and his family—back to that little glimpse of a young boy on a trampoline, to a glimpse of a young boy at a school play. There was also a glimpse of another young man. God forbid that we judge another human being, but perhaps we can move on from the case and all reflect on this when we get behind the wheel of a car. The car is a weapon and, whenever we get into it, it could kill someone—it could kill a young child. If any of us thinks of speeding in a residential area or, God forbid, thinks of getting into a car uninsured or driving without a licence, we are acting with such gross negligence and such recklessness that it must be equated morally with the most criminal or grossly negligent acts that we commit.
I hope we can take away from this debate the beauty of that young man’s life and a strong sense from this Chamber going out to society that we will remember Kayden Dunn with enormous, sincere respect for him and his family and for the way they have reached out to Parliament. We should also take away the hope that in future, there will not be many more Kayden Dunns.