LIFE sentences have finally been made available to ‘restricted’ judges presiding over death by dangerous driving cases following pressure from the brother of a Barnsley woman who was killed by four career criminals speeding in a stolen HGV.
The long campaign to scrap the previous 14-year maximum term - spearheaded locally by Johnny Wood and Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock - began when 58-year-old pedestrian Jackie Wileman was killed on Common Road, Brierley, on September 14, 2018.
David Mellor, Wayne Carroll, Alan Mawhinney and unlicensed driver Karn Hill - who clocked up more than 100 offences between them before the fatal joyride - received between ten-and-a-half and 13 years in prison.
After the government previously agreed to a sentencing bill revision last year, the move was finally rubber-stamped this week following pressure in Parliament from Johnny, Ms Peacock and the parents of Violet-Grace Youens, who died aged four following a hit-and-run in St Helens, Merseyside, in 2017.
Life tariffs - previously reserved for murder and manslaughter convictions - are now available to judges after the change came into force on Tuesday.
Johnny - who praised the Chronicle’s coverage of his family’s quest for the law change - said: “It’s been a long time coming but it’s a massive achievement.
“Judges should never have been bound by the 14-year restriction - causing death by dangerous driving should be treated in the same way as murder as life sentences are what victims’ families are given.
“We’re thankful to Steph, who has helped us a lot in the last three-and-a-half years, and the Chronicle for covering the story since Jackie’s death.
“There’s still a lot for us to do, as although the sentencing change was our main goal, we also want changes to be made by the Probation Service as the four who killed Jackie should not have been allowed on the streets given their track record.”
In the days prior to Jackie’s death, Mellor took the lorry from his then-employer, Barnsley-based City Freight Services, and held the vehicle to ransom claiming he was owed two-and-a-half weeks’ wages.
Having had its registration reported by the firm, a police officer travelling on Common Road came across the vehicle and turned around to follow it but Hill, who was 23 at the time, sped up and drove at ‘top speed’ before failing to negotiate the bend.
The HGV hit three cars, Jackie - who was on her daily walk - and damaged a house which had to be re-built.
A passing cyclist also narrowly escaped death - with CCTV showing the vehicle just missed him as it ploughed into the house - while three of the four men attempted to flee.
A vodka bottle and drug paraphernalia were found in the cabin by investigating officers, Hill failed a roadside breath test and it was revealed to the jury in the case that Carroll had spent time behind bars for a previous conviction for causing death by dangerous driving following a hit-and-run in Havercroft in 2014.
All four were convicted of causing death by dangerous driving, although Hill’s pre-trial guilty plea meant he automatically received a 25 per cent sentence reduction.
Although the change in law won’t result in Jackie’s killers’ sentences being increased, it will apply to offences committed on or after Tuesday, according to the Sentencing Council.
The South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership (SYSRP) - the body responsible for reducing incidents on the local network - praised the law change.
Joanne Wehrle, manager of the SYSRP, said: “The pain and heartbreak suffered by families who lose loved ones in a road traffic collision is just unthinkable.
“We hope that tougher laws around dangerous and careless driving will make people think twice about their behaviour on our roads including speeding, getting behind the wheel under the influence of drink or drugs or using their mobile phone illegally.
“These laws are about protecting our communities, protecting other road users and reducing the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads.
“One casualty is one too many - no-one should feel unsafe or vulnerable on our roads.”
Johnny’s tireless campaigning - which helped force the law change - honoured his much-missed sister’s memory, according to Steph.
Having worked alongside Jackie Wileman’s family since the tragedy, she paid tribute to Johnny and the local community for pulling together during their time of need.
However, she believes changes must also be made to the probation system, and confirmed Johnny will be meeting a Home Office minister next week to discuss what can be done to keep track of convicted criminals’ whereabouts.
“One of those prosecuted was already in the probation system,” she added.
“The culprits responsible for this terrible tragedy should not have been on the streets - Johnny rightly feels that had the probation service been able to stop these criminals, Jackie may still be here today.
“This points to a variety of other issues, such as police cuts depleting South Yorkshire Police’s capacity to stop the perpetrators from joyriding before it was too late, and flaws in the probation system meaning that these individuals were able to get away with repetitively committing crimes whilst already in the system.
“I hope that these changes feel like progress to families who have suffered at the hands of this crime - I know Johnny’s commitment to implementing better victim support will make such a difference to families experiencing loss as a result of dangerous driving.
“He has also been tireless in campaigning to increase the sentence for those convicted of dangerous driving - it is absolutely right that judges have the option to implement harsher sentences to stop criminals from getting away with causing harm through dangerous driving, and he has been instrumental in making sure these changes are made.
“Johnny feels it is particularly unfair that one of the culprits is being released after such a short time, and I hope progress can be made on this important issue.
“Jackie’s death shook the Barnsley to its core, but the way the community came together to help the family was sensitive and heartfelt.
“Her brother’s activism has honoured her memory by making sure that criminals pay, and victims can access the support they need when they need it.”