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8th February 98    

 

Baroness Hayman
House of Lords
­­­­­Westminster
London SW1A OPW
_______________

 

Dear Baroness Hayman

We have been desperate to find some urgent sense from the current Road Traffic laws and when this morning we read a small article in the back of the Sunday Times, we couldn't but put pen to paper to make you aware of our own recent tragedy and our fears for its judicial outcome.  Please bear with us whilst we try to make a very long point:

Our beautiful Livia, as you can see, 16, left home at 5 to 7 pm on Monday, 12 January and was dead by 10 past 7 pm.  She was walking to her ballet studio for her 7.15 lesson, some 800 yards away from home, when a mercedes mounted the pavement where she was walking, struck a signpost, and did not stop; injured another woman pedestrian on that same pavement, and did not stop - and then, with full car body width, the driver  continued some 30 yards up the pavement, ploughed into Livia, pushing her under the body of the car, drove over her and then stopped with one wheel off the pavement with Livia still under.  No brake marks, no drunkenness, no car defects, nothing - and also, nothing, because the man has been advised not to talk - to give a reason for his behaviour.  So that, todate, we are governed by his silence. 

We loved, adored Livia - I, Mummy, did have an opportunity to tell her this recently - she was most giving . She had friends and teachers, from past and present, who came to pay tribute to her character, her ability, her style. She wanted to be a barrister and all pointed to the fact that she had that resolve, discipline and logic to take on the challenge. The tributes were and continue to be amazing.   We asked her riding teacher if she would honour Livia by heading the cortège on Livia's favourite horse, Sam.  She had no hesitation and dressed herself in formal long skirt and garb. She, too, looked beautiful.  She took off her hat in salute as we went past where Livia was struck and then she led the cortège to Livia's resting place, just one mile away.  That is how we wanted it - a gesture of acknowledgement and one of defiance against the grim reaper who has dared to deprive us of our child.  Our own realisation is that nothing can ever hurt us as much again. 

The pain is unbearable for all of us.  As for me, well, we were safari partners:  my school run was of a 54 mile round trip each day for five years and my part time job and timetable were organised around her.  We advised each other, we shopped together, we went to the theatre together, we were film going partners.  We were due to see the Titanic the Saturday before she died.  She was due to go riding on Sunday afternoon except that it was Aunty Phyl's birthday and we didn't want to rush lunch.  I made a definite promise for the middle of the week, at worst, next Sunday, I said.  And then, she went down, along that same pavement to Marks and Spencers, to buy Aunty Phyl a present.  She returned with two items - a plant and a bouquet of pink and white carnations with gyp.  " I didn't know which to get, Mummy, and these were so pretty" she said holding out the bouquet.  Her intonation was so sweet and delicate.  I said we'd keep the bouquet as she liked it so much, and, so we did. 

We remember all aspects of our relationship with her, the ups, the downs - the shouts, as well as the tender moments, but, it is the voice, the intonation of a phrase, the look - the hurt look, the cheeky look, the sultry look - the requests: Mummy, can I have a hug; move over I want to lie near you;  Mummy, where are you and I will come to help you...

How, how does one get rid of this hurt, how?  What about the "if onlys" we must now live with.

Our days are never good days.   We try to take strength from reading up on the law surrounding Road Traffic Accidents and we get depressed because we feel we will be walking a minefield and that we/our child will be botched into expendability as so many others have been. Will the offender get off with points and a fine?  Would that not be legal killing?   How is it that the Government and the big chief of police do not have Road Traffic mortality as a priority item on their agenda.   And we talk of roads, but what of pavements?  We talk of social obligations and values.  What do they and getting a "good" education and protecting the family unit and encouraging good values mean, if there is no true commitment to the safety of life?  What then are good values? Had I or George,  committed a murder with a gun,  of an individual or a group, the entire unified corrective forces of the land would have come down heavily upon us and put us away instantly.  A car is reckoned to be one of the most lethal weapons,  yet a man that causes a death can be arrested immediately, in theory, but not in practice, because it may look like harassment in the court; cannot be forced to make a statement right away because it may look like harassment in the court.  He does not have his passport taken away, nor his driving licence - he can virtually continue to drive and practice his profession and just wait, behind advised silence, for the process to take effect.  Eventually, the man will be arrested (and let's hope he'll still be in the country), if he refuses to make any statement, but, even at interview, he cannot be forced to speak.  He doesn't have to.  The burden is on the prosecution to prove the case despite the dead body of a child, despite the witnesses, despite his stopping, eventually, and despite his own presence at the scene where he would have had to face the result of his action: a young, petite girl, left lying on a pavement with a broken pelvis, with bleeding face and torn little ears and a gashed underlip, her front teeth smashed: the result of the scraping of the bottom of his car against our daughter's face.  She died of severe head injuries.  She wasn't even taken to the hospital, it was the mortuary. And shall I describe how we found out.  Well, we went looking for her because she was half an hour late returning from her ballet lesson. She had to be ID'd by her ballet teacher who was waiting for her - as we said she was just yards from reaching port.  She died in the arms of strangers not far from home, while the supper was being made.

So, despite all this, we are then faced with the likely machinations behind the legal process: a police report to the CPS who pick at it to decide whether they have enough evidence to secure a prosecution or whether it is in the public interest to prosecute - ie a wholly subjective process which will have one eye on the budget and the other on timetables (where a fatality is concerned, it is more convenient for the CPS to get a conviction of careless driving which takes 30 minutes as against attempting a dangerous driving conviction in the crown courts which can take one whole day) -  a dismissive attitude which does not value life but which will ultimately benefit the offender. To add insult to death, it is admitted that juries are reluctant to convict fellow motorists of such drastic charges as manslaughter!

And what of this law of silence whereby the offender can take so long to make a statement.  Despite several invitations by the police to come forward with one, he has resisted and, on the 12th,  it will have been four weeks of silence  - by which time he  may have been able, with advice, to manipulate his statement to his advantage. Why cannot the police arrest the offender in situ, take his statement on the spot?  Is it right that notwithstanding an obvious fatality, a man should walk free because the process is influenced and intimidated by the "might look like" manoeuvres. Within the current debate about family values and good education - prime base ingredients for the new vibrant and focused society,  for the advancement of civilisation - is it really so naïve to hope for straight forward truth and justice for straight forward motor manslaughter.  Is it right that we should be forced to resort to years and years of striving and possible bankruptcy to find them; to have to seek to be clever, to find the right expert to direct those laws, this system, as if it were a game.

We have made a promise to ourselves and to Livia, that, however long it takes, she will not be filed away as just another faceless road (pavement) statistic, victim of a senseless killing and, perhaps, the mephistophelean intricacies of the law.  A solicitor said to us  "There is no justice, only laws to keep us in check".  We want justice and we want dignity for our daughter. 

When something like this happens, an entire community is affected.  Enfield is a largish town but Livia, in her short life, made herself known - at both her primary schools, at her riding school, at ballet school, around the area posting the local gazette through letter boxes, in the newsagents, at the local churches, at the Abbey National, at the bank, in the shopping centre, in the grocery stores and then, finally, at her secondary school in Hertfordshire.    I am still writing daily to the children of Livia's school who have been so traumatised by the loss of a school mate that they get counselling or stay home. Her best friend dreams of her nightly, her stomach, she says, has been wrenched out of her, she gets migraines. Their tragedy is that they should be studying for the summer GCSEs.  And what of her sister, Bianca, who has lost  a lifetime companion and who is now afraid to sleep at night.

We protest for a life, unnecessarily taken at 16,  not some faceless rag doll's - our young daughter's, who herself believed in the system and trusted its laws and does not deserve betrayal.  We're talking about the injustice of awarding 3 points and a minimal fine in exchange for another life taken on an Enfield zebra crossing.  We protest about the freedom granted another offender, with a mere  £500 fine,  in exchange for another young 16 year old life taken on another pavement in another county.  How should communities feel at this state of affairs? And never are they aware of what is and what is not until it happens to them or someone they know.  It happened to us.  

The Road Traffic Act was revised in '88 and has had some small revisions in 91/'92.  Perhaps, in light of what we are bringing to your attention, the Government, the police and the media might work together to redress urgently the current tragic imbalance in the priorities agenda and fuss a little more about motor manslaughter.  Otherwise, life is  cheapened by the very laws which are supposed to protect it and all the dogma on good parenting of the new generations is risible.

Investigations are still ongoing.  We do not know when things will move and what shape they will take.  We hope that as leader of the review to the current Road Traffic Act, you will want to have been informed.

 

Yours sincerely
George, Giulietta and Bianca Galli-Atkinson

 

cc Mr Stephen Twigg, MP
cc The Editor of the Sunday Times


 


8th February 1998

 

 

The Hon Mr Stephen Twigg, MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA

 

 

Dear Mr Twigg

We were about to write to request an interview with you, anyway, when we began reading  today's Sunday Times and found the article on the back page relating to Baroness Hayman's lead on the review to the current Road Traffic Act.  So, it becomes most urgent that we do meet. now.  We enclose our letter to the Baroness which will give you all the tragic details of our young daughter's death at Windmill Hill on 12th January.  We enclose the Enfield Gazette and Watford Observer articles as well as her photograph, just to bring home to you who it is we are talking about.

We are caring, loving, grieving parents and while we do not wish to jeopardise our legal standing, we feel it is most urgent,  in view of what we may stand to lose, to ask you to agree to meet with us, privately, to hear us and to keep an eye on proceedings.

We await your reply.

Yours sincerely

 

 

George and Giulietta Galli-Atkinson

 


 


8th February 1998

 

Mr John Witherow
Editor
The Sunday Times
1 Virginia   St
London E1 9BD

 

Dear  Mr Witherow

In light of the small article today on page 28 regarding killer drivers, I enclose our letter to Baroness Hayman.  We have also asked for a meeting with our MP, Mr Stephen Twigg. 

While we do not wish to jeopardise our legal standing as investigations take their lengthy process, we are very much aware that judicial history relating to road killings have a very poor record of bringing a conviction to fit the crime.  Our letter to the Baroness is very long but it seeks to convey our distress at losing a much loved daughter in such needless and tragic circumstances and to seek support in our struggle to change the current system.   It will be hard, it will be painful but we will not rest until we have honoured our daughter.  We will not.  And we seek your interest and help in documenting the proceedings when the time comes.  Will you?  Can you, please, for Livia, our little friend - just so that her life was not meant to waste on a pavement in Enfield;  just so others' are not wasted in the same way -- into oblivion as though they never mattered?

 

Yours sincerely
George and Giulietta Galli-Atkinson 


 


8th February 1998

 

Mr Ian Godfrey
Shepherd Harris & Co
Suite B4 Cecil Court
London Rd
Enfield EN2 6HH

 

Dear Mr Godfrey

Thank you for your letter of 6 February advising us of your satisfactory conversation with Sergeant Clarkson.

At our meeting, we did refer to our dissatisfaction with elements of the Road Traffic Act and our determination to do something about it.  We've read the enclosed article regarding the review in hand and we've felt obliged to take action and to inform you.  Copy of our correspondence is enclosed, also.

With good wishes

 

Yours sincerely

 

George & Giulietta Galli-Atkinson

 


8 April 1998
The Baroness Hayman
Minister for Roads
DETR
Eland House
Bessenden Place
London SW E 5DtJ

 

Dear Baroness Hayman
Thank you for your kind condolences. Your reply of 30 March informs us of the principles of law in regard to traffic cases which we, ourselves, have been obliged to learn over the last few weeks — an interminable 91 days, so far. The fact remains that to have structures and good intentions in place is not enough and that miscarriages of justice are borne of human error, incompetence and fudge.


You say that consideration of cost and convenience play no part in the principles which Crown Prosecutors must apply when making decisions. However, it is common knowledge among lawyers that the CPS take up cases with inexperienced Counsels for matters of economics.

Why is the maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment for causing death by dangerous driving rarely given? Take the case in Birmingham of Jamie Ayres, 5 yrs old — killed on a pavement by a drunk, speeding driver, who left the scene of the crime and then tried to pervert the cause of justice by reporting the car as stolen. He received a mere 4 and 1/2 years! What does such an offender need to do to receive the maximum penalty an be charged with manslaughter? How do you explain the considerations of the Law Commission No 237 — Legislating the Criminal Code: Involuntary Manslaughter.


“..the CPS described the continued existence of the concept of gross negligence manslaughter in road traffic cases as an irritant because it is not clear when manslaughter should be charged rather than the statutory offence, and prosecutors come under pressure from the public to charge what is perceived as the more serious offence”?
Irritant? Not clear? Perceived?


The two issues of road safety and road traffic law are intertwined. You advise us that your Department is shortly to embark on research into the present operation of road traffic law...and to consider improvements...but the DETR October 1997 Report Towards Safer Roads, of which we now have a copy, tells us that while something must be done to improve safety, the timescale is longterm, indeed. In fact, the improvements are reckoned to be spread over 12 years, with intermittent assessments! The Report talks of: .“.it would be premature to set out firm solutions...Further work is needed....a target is valuable...but there is no point in plucking a target out of the air....is aimed at 2010, with 3 yearly assessments..”

So that despite the “disproportionate” number of pedestrians, cyclists, children who, the Report recognises, are involved in accidents (pedestrians killed or seriously injured in 1996 total 11.608 (ie almost 1000 per month, including our daughter this year), the timescale suggests that Government is prepared to continue risking lives despite its awareness of the “level of public concern”.

Another recent, more specific Road Traffic Statistics Report breaks down the annual number of children killed, seriously or slightly injured:


0—15 years: 131 pedestrians killed
4007 severely injured
14,377 slightly injured

The trouble with statistics is that they are faceless and cold. We can’t name 18,515 children
killed or maimed. Surely a few are enough. Who will champion Livia, who Jamie, who Sara, who Emma, who Alan, who Bryan, who Doreen, who Donald, who Stuart, who Timothy, who Phillipa? Of these, one child was seriously injured. The others died on impact. Five were children.

Jack Straw has recently written:

..”Our children have rights. The most important right is to live their lives in safety and to enjoy their childhood as children, not as adults before their time”.

He was referring to paedophile crimes. What is the point of safeguarding these children if, at the end of the day, one of these lives might be annihilated on a road or a pavement, unvindicated by another set of laws? Do not child road traffic victims have a right not to be obliged into early death, more traditionally reserved for their elders. Their right to reach adulthood has been forcibly and permanently denied. So, unless the overall drama of peoples’ lives is taken on board, haphazard safeguards are pointless and political stances vacuous.

Anyone’s death on the road is a tragedy, as tragic as any other form of killing. Ten deaths per day on the road, involve ten lives lost; ten destroyed, bereaved families, per day, whose quality of life has changed drastically. If ten families per day were to withhold their taxes, the Government would be quick enough to respond with fines or imprisonment. If ten children of ten parliamentarians were slaughtered like the children above, an emergency sitting might be called.


With respect, your letter and the Reports suggest to us that the overall desire to activate change is too distant.

Government is able to respond with fearsome alacrity and implement change and discipline when it suits it. It needs to do so, now, both to improve safety but, more specifically, to correct attitudes and incompetent CPS units and sentencers, since some of their outcomes have signalled contempt for road victims and their bereaved, while offending motorists have been offered all the legal safety nets.


To a large degree, safety on the roads is conditioned by the quality of drivers. In the first instance, at least, driver attitude ought to be forced to change, by tough deterrents — the tougher deterrent of manslaughter, for example, which is so specifically shied away from; or a newly named deterrent (whatever Government, luminaries, legal bodies want to call it), so long as it recognises the deepest gravity of the deed and will not fudge all the issues of an unlawful killing on the road and pavement — at present, we maintain, the rights of the victim and the bereaved seem to be of no consequence. Additionally, a licence ought to be permanently withdrawn, once an unlawful driving conviction has been secured. What sense is there in returning Mr Humble his licence after ten years? Would a gun licence be restored to a man who has been convicted of a killing involving a gun?

We are appealing to the new Government to take this opportunity to understand its priorities, to listen, to hear and to act now against offenders as we wait for Road Safety practicalities to take effect. Too great a proportion of pedestrian lives, alone, killed or maimed by drivers, have been botched into expendability.

There are independent, non political organisations begun by, and now representing, bereaved families, which have been struggling for years to be heard, to bring about change. The first, RoadPeace, was organised six years ago. While the urgency of their message has been broadcast, it has not been acted on by Government. The grief and disbelief of bereaved families — just imagine 11,608 in ‘96 — have been turning to anger and bitterness.

Again, Mr Straw’s article in the Times, today, says “he listens to the people, not to pressure groups”. Not all pressure groups are materialistically self serving. Some are born out of misery and frustration, out of an individual’s incapacity to be heard.

We applauded the election of Mr Blair and he has shown an integrity we have liked. The new Government has not long inherited the quagmire of mal administered policies and shows that it seeks changes. May it hear that accidents on the road have for too long been regarded as risks we all have to take, even though many are not caused by chance or fate, but by human action.

We do not think that any of you would ever turn to us and say, that we took one risk too many that night we let Livia walk 800 yards on the pavement to her ballet class, and that we must now live with that fateful decision. We must anyway, but you should not voice it, you should not lead by it. For the purpose of Government is to have workable frameworks of safety and law, so that when a crime such as Livia’s does happen, the comfort of justice can be sought and found, without the kind of fear and struggle that has been imposed upon us, and many others. May it remember that when justice is systematically not served, the grumblings of dissatisfaction grow into open rebellion.


The fact is, that a death such as Livia’s could happen in any one family, Baroness, whether a road is safe or not. The sooner it is realised that road safety is a side issue to the more important quality of the legal safeguards and their managers, that ought to be in place, the sooner it’lI be understood that the clock is ticking for all of us, and that even one year longer to implement any kind of change, is too long. Safer roads are required, but, please, do take immediate action to implement zero tolerance for unlawful death and injury by driving, zero tolerance for incompetence and expedient justice.


Yours sincerely
Giulietta Galli—Atkinson
copies to
The Prime Minister, Mr Jack Straw, Mr John Prescott, Mr Stephen Twigg
The Sunday Times, The Times
Nicholas Atkinson, QC, Mr Ian Godfrey LLb
RoadPeace

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