Local MP to address House of Commons on changes needed to drink-drive laws

The ‘Whitlam’s Law’ Campaign is gathering momentum with Alec Shelbrooke MP (Elmet & Rothwell) due to address the House of Commons on Thursday 13th July on “Prosecution of driving offences committed on private land”.

Whitlam’s Law seeks to end the anomaly that drink-driving laws apply only to vehicles driven on public, not private land. It follows the tragic case of the death of 11-year-old Harry Whitlam, who was killed on the morning of 9th August 2013 when he was struck by a tractor that was being driven by Gary Green who was over the legal drink-drive limit.

Alex Shelbrooke MP said:

“The death of 11-year-old Harry Whitlam in 2013 stunned the communities I represent, but it was the lack of prosecution that shocked us to the core. Harry died after the tractor reversed into him at Swithens Farm in Rothwell. An inquest later heard that the driver was almost three times over the legal alcohol limit on the day of the crash. He was not prosecuted at the time as the incident happened on private land.
 
This case has highlighted an anomaly in the law. Because Harry’s killer was operating a vehicle on private land whilst under the influence of alcohol he could not be prosecuted in the same way he would have been had the incident happened on a public highway. There is an urgent need for parity of esteem when it comes to causing death by dangerous driving whether on public of private land and I hope this Adjournment Debate will trigger a change in the law in this respect”.

The Crime Prosecution Service (CPS) were unable to bring a prosecution under drink-driving legislation because the accident had taken place on private land. The only punishment available was for the Health & Safety Executive to prosecute Mr Green for “Failing to ensure the safety of persons other than employees" contrary to Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The two offences carry very different sentences. Had Mr Green been prosecuted under drink-driving laws his likely sentence would have been 6 years (the crime attracts a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment). Instead, he was sentenced to just 16 months and 2 weeks on 13th December 2016.

It is this disparity that Whitlam’s Law seeks to end, by changing the law to making drink-driving legislation apply to vehicles being driven on both public and private land.

Brake, the road safety charity who support the campaign, said:

“As a charity that supports bereaved and seriously injured road crash victims, we know only too well the devastation and suffering caused by drink driving. A drunk driver in charge of a vehicle of any type is a lethal combination. Whether this takes place on private or public land ought to be irrelevant.

The current loophole in the law, which has been demonstrated in this tragic case, is one that needs closing. The families we work with often tell us how they feel let down by the inadequacy of our current criminal driving laws, with drivers who kill often let off with lenient sentences.

Far too often, grieving relatives are let down by our legal system. We are aware of similar cases to that of Harry’s and support his family’s call to have the current drink driving law changed to include vehicles being driven on private land. We need to send out a clear message to all drivers that it is not safe to operate a vehicle if you have alcohol in your system – and that includes if you are on private land.”

For more information and to find out how you can support the campaign click here to download a copy of the Whitlam's Law campaign report.