Livia left her home in Enfield at 18.55 on 12 January 1998 to attend her 19.15 ballet class. She almost made it. At 19.05 she lay dying on the pavement on which she had been walking, just metres from her school. At 19.40 she was dead. She was 16 years old. A driver had careered into her. He had mounted the pavement on her south side and travelled along it for nearly forty metres without braking. Before striking and dragging Livia to her death, he had demolished and driven over a two metre metal post that gashed his car’s radiator; he had injured another pedestrian; he had avoided crashing into the pavement wall. In fact, the car stopped because it failed mechanically.
The driver was charged with death by dangerous driving, the case to be tested in the court of all courts, The Old Bailey. He pleaded not guilty and declined to testify on the day of cross examination. He was found guilty of the charge by unanimous verdict. The maximum sentence he might have received for the charge was ten years’ imprisonment; and/or an unlimited fine; an obligatory disqualification for a minimum of two years and an endorsement of 3-11 points.The sentence expected on this guilty verdict was two years’ imprisonment, with a minimum of nine months. In the event, the offender was given a £2,000 fine with £1,825 costs, 10 penalty points and a five year driving ban.The top penalty, at the time, for careless driving or driving without reasonable consideration, was a £2500 fine, a discretionary disqualification for any period and/or until a driving test had been passed; 3-9 penalty points. Clearly, the penalty here was manoeuvred into the middle of the charging standards for the lesser charge which had not been relevant, not the charge brought, contested, nor pleaded.
An appeal was lodged by the family and by the CPS with the Attorney General against the unduly lenient sentence but he declined to give leave to appeal.
The family took the Attorney General to Judicial Review on the grounds of unreasonableness. The High Court found that for the purpose of the two hearings, it was arguable that it had been an unduly lenient sentence and that the then Attorney General had made an error of judgment in denying the family leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal. However, given discretionary powers, he had not made an error of law.
The family took their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to test the veracity and objectivity of the right to have life protected by law, as well as to test other articles.
Livia’s case failed.
All criminal justice avenues having been exhausted over a five year period, a civil case against the defendant was mounted and won in March 2003, widening the parameters of trauma and proximity definition in personal injury claims.
Driving has become of private and business routine. We drive because it is our pleasure, or our need, and driving lessons are gift wrapped at the coming of age. Who hasn’t been excited from the first lesson to the test, and, by the time of a first drive on one’s own, excited by erstwhile fears changing to feelings of empowerment and newly discovered freedoms?
And “why not?” only ever comes into play when a piece of driving goes wrong, when it causes a bump or a write off, which hurts the pocket, or a minor injury which notches up experience. When it causes major injury or death, it turns lives upside down, by what-ifs, by grief or guilt.
Yet, here is an area of crime that could be better managed by active and cohesive political will and leadership at the highest levels and across the board of government, the prime moral point being that road deaths and serious injuries cannot be acceptable collateral damage.
Each week we read of sudden, violent road deaths or of life-altering injuries, of the ripple effect of trauma in families and the fear of lenient sentences.
Three times more Britons are killed on roads, over a million worldwide according to the World Health Organisation estimate.
The July 7 bombings here in London killed six days’ worth of death on the road. After this event, ten thousand people gathered in Trafalgar Square. You don’t get ten thousand people in Trafalgar Square lamenting last week’s road death toll…
This is road violence on a massive scale that is accepted with terrifying nonchalance and displaced social responsibility.
Some of the most articulate and influential in society who might speak up more consistently are reluctant to be shackled to road safety campaigns which seem to be too policing of hard earned freedoms. But when they argue understandingly for the thoughtless and the high spirited, the sloppy, the clumsy or the slapdash at the wheel, they perpetuate the concept of naughtiness, rather than of criminal violence. They argue the lack of intent of a mugger, murderer or rapist, and, what driver has not had a near miss?
A car is a lethal weapon and driving is a dangerous and risk taking activity requiring multi-tasking of the brain, the complexity of which is probably beyond average comprehension. We see, we copy, we reproduce, we do and then, too often, we do badly. We kill or injure most easily by driving. If caught and charged, we weep and are sorry not so much, perhaps, for having killed or seriously altered somebody else’s lifestyle and scope but because we are afraid of losing our own rights and freedoms.
Driver culpability is measured by a standard of driving having fallen below or far below those expected of competent and careful driving. To add insult to injury, or death, offenders are most often defended on a tenet of there but for the Grace of God. That is: how many of us, it is put by defenders in a court of law, can claim to be able to drive with text book capacity?!
There is room for mitigation in a fair and just society, in a democratic court of law, but to engineer innocent road victims’ lives into reasoned or reasonable expendability is outrageous, amoral.
Looking at the tombstones, I think it is quite sad that the soldiers can’t be given a name;
Last year road deaths and serious injuries were declared to have been reduced but there should be no complacency. A safer future requires consistent and constant vigilance, reappraisal and development to catapult into oblivion that propensity to view or accept road deaths and serious injuries as random misfortunes.
If not, what value a human life?
The Livia Memorial Garden
The Livia Memorial Fund & Awards