Should some people ever be allowed to drive again?

People like Robert Freeman, for instance.

From the West Sussex County Times (story not online) -

Horsham driver jailed for mowing down two soldiers

A Horsham man has been jailed after mowing down two off-duty servicemen in his Land Rover. Robert Freeman, 23, a carpenter, of New Street, was sent to prison for 16 months and banned from driving for five years when he appeared for sentence at Guildford Crown Court on Thursday February 9.

He had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving in High Street, Cranleigh, on August 6 last year. He also admitted failing to stop after an accident and failing to report the accident. The court had been told that a promising young serviceman was left with life-changing injuries when he and his soldier pal were mown down by a hit-and-run driver in their home village. Jack Lawler, 20, of the 13th Air Attack Regiment, had his back broken and was knocked unconscious after being struck by a speeding 4×4 as he stood in a bus bay in Cranleigh.

His friend Luke Carter, 21, was on leave after a gruelling seven-month tour of duty with the same regiment in war-torn Afghanistan when he was sent flying through the air by the same vehicle, it was said. Both lives were blown apart as the Land Rover Discovery swerved into them before driving off without stopping – leaving one of the victims feeling it might have been done deliberately, the court was told.

‘The impact was catastrophic,’ said Judge Christopher Critchlow. The court heard how Freeman had a string of driving bans behind him and had regained his licence [incorrect - Freeman was still disqualified at the time. See below] less than two months before the incident which seriously injured the two servicemen. Freeman, who had two previous convictions for drink-driving and one more for driving while disqualified, had had his most recent driving ban shortened by completing a safer motoring course – a decision which was to have a grim outcome only weeks later, the court was told.

The defendant had earlier denied a charge intending to pervert the course of justice by making repairs to his damaged car and this plea had been accepted by the prosecution. Jailing Freeman, Judge Critchlow said the maximum sentence for his offence was two years behind bars – although there are moves afoot by Parliament to increase it.

‘Some will say that the maximum sentence is not enough to punish people who drive in this way,’ he said. The judge told Freeman, whose speeds at the time of the crash were estimated by eye-witnesses to be between 40 mph to 50 mph, that he had clearly been breaking the 30 mph limit in Cranleigh village centre. ‘You swerved and hit both men,’ he said.

Referring to Freeman’s explanation that he swerved to avoid hitting someone else he had seen crossing the street, Judge Critchlow stressed that no one at the scene had ever spotted this other pedestrian. ‘Nobody else saw that,’ stressed Judge Critchlow. He said he was bound to give a discount on his jail term  for his early plea of guilty. ‘Nothing I can say or do can turn the clock back for the two men who were injured – or for you,’ he said. But Judge Critchlow ordered that Freeman’s Land Rover Discovery should be forfeited in the hope that its sale could raise some funds to compensate the two injured soldiers.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Dan Chant of Surrey Police said: ‘Freeman was found guilty of dangerous driving, with the aggravating factor that he then failed to stop or report the collision. These men were waiting at the bus stop minding their own business when Freeman lost control of his car and swerved into them. Although he didn’t drive into the two men deliberately, this was a very serious incident and left both men with serious injuries from which they have taken some time to recover. The fact that he was given a custodial sentence in court last week reflects the severity of the incident and has ensured that he has been brought to justice for his recklessness.’

Further

Civil action taken on behalf of two victims

Civil proceedings are being taken on behalf of the two victims, Guildford Crown Court was told. Jack Lawler and Luke Carter sat in the court with their families as the sentence was passed on Robert Freeman.

Earlier, Susannah Bramley, prosecuting, said the two soldiers had been drinking at the Three Horseshoes, Cranleigh, shortly before the incident and had decided to cross the road to talk to someone moments before the accident. She said both men were in a bus bay when they were hit by the car driven by Freeman who had been drinking in another pub in the village.

‘It swerved into the bus lay-by. Both men were thrown into the air by the impact,’ she added. Ms Bramley said Mr Carter had been left wondering if he had done something earlier to upset the defendant and prompt him to drive the way he did. She said: ‘Mr Lawler was knocked unconscious. He doesn’t remember anything from leaving the gym earlier to waking up in hospital.’

The court was told that Mr Lawler, who had just obtained his Air Wings, suffered a broken back and a broken pelvis. ‘He had to have 16 screws inserted in his pelvis and two bolts inserted in his back,’ said Ms Bramley. She said Mr Lawler had also suffered serious kidney and liver damage. Ms Bramley said that he had to learn to walk again, have his most intimate needs attended to by others, and his parents’ home adapted to cope with the effects of his injuries. She said his career in the forces was still uncertain despite his indomitable spirit and a courageous fight-back to health.

Ms Bramley said that although Carter had been less seriously hurt, the accident had had a bad effect on him physically and psychologically. In a victim impact statement read to the court, Mr Carter said: ‘The confidence I once had has disappeared.’ He said he had witnessed horrible scenes in Afghanistan but he had never expected to experience such a shocking incident so near his own home. But he added: ‘Jack’s injuries just make me realise how lucky I was.’

In his impact statement, Mr Lawler said: ‘The world was my oyster. To have it all taken away like this is indescribable.’ He said: ‘The physical pain has been excruciating.’ But he said the mental agony was even worse. Mr Lawler said his initial anger had been replaced by a burning desire to fight his way back to full health. ‘I will overcome this,’ he added. He made it clear that the sentence imposed on the defendant was unimportant to him now. ‘I don’t care what happens to the person responsible,’ added Mr Lawler.

Stuart Weston, defending, said his client was genuinely sorry for the injuries head caused. ‘He says he swerved to avoid a pedestrian. He saw someone else step into the road,’ he said. Mr Weston told the court his client had left the scene because he had panicked. He added: ‘This is a tragic case for all the people involved.’ He said Freeman was a hardworking young man who was highly thought of by many people. ‘He has found the 28 days he has spent on remand in custody terrible,’ he added.

Sickening.

I often ride along New Street on my bicycle, where Mr Freeman lives, quite often late at night. Indeed I did so on the evening of Saturday the 6th August, although some time before Mr Freeman returned home after ploughing into two servicemen.

I am also very familiar with the bus stop where this ‘accident’ occurred – as a teenager, I had a number of friends in Cranleigh, and would catch the bus to get there and back again, often using the stop in question.

Mr Carter and Mr Lawler had crossed the pub on the left, to the bus stop at the right, where – in a detail missing from the County Times story – Mr Carter’s sister was sitting on the bench, by the dark bin; she witnessed her brother and his best friend being struck by a speeding vehicle.

You can see why Mr Carter thought they might have been struck deliberately, given the deviation from a straight line Mr Freeman must have taken to move into the bus stop. From the direction he was travelling in -

Mr Freeman concocted some fantasy story about a pedestrian crossing the road to explain his wild swerve, a story that even his defence counsel seemed embarrassed about presenting -

Stuart Weston, defending, acknowledged the aggravating aspects of the case and said: “Mr Freeman has to live with the consequences of his driving and must be punished. He was driving too fast. He swerved to avoid a pedestrian – it was not witnessed by anybody else, but those are my instructions.”

A totally unsubstantiated explanation, that Mr Freeman persisted in sticking to, despite the unease of his defence counsel.

Another detail missing from the County Times article – while mentioning that Freeman ‘had been drinking’ in another pub, the paper does not record that he managed to rack up a £45 bar bill, before stepping into his vehicle and driving home. Of course, Mr Freeman was not been charged with drink driving, because he fled the scene and failed to report the collision, escaping the possibility of being tested.

Well done him.

The final missing detail is that Mr Lawler – whose heart stopped beating twice during surgery, and had pieces of shattered bone embedded in his spleen and kidneys – was subsequently treated at Headley Court, which is of course the centre where soldiers seriously injured in Afghanistan are usually rehabiliated; not those who are mown down during the course of a night out in their home village while on leave from that country. Some journalists are quite fond of rhetorically describing the ‘conflict’ on our streets as a ‘war’ – in this case that analogy is perhaps a little too raw.

If Mr Freeman was ‘genuinely sorry’ for destroying the life of Mr Lawler, it is rather odd that he didn’t stop at the scene, or report the collision, even in the days subsequent to the crash when the severity of the injuries to the men involved was being reported – days on which Mr Freeman chose to occupy himself by repairing the damage to his vehicle. He would also have confessed to the police when they tracked him down, instead of offering ‘no comment.’ He was only sorry when it made no difference.

For some reason, his plea of not guilty to the charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice – by repairing his car – was accepted by the prosecution, meaning that this deeply callous behaviour, like his drink driving, has also escaped punishment.

It is finally worth noting that Mr Freeman has only received a penalty for the dangerous driving charge. As the BBC reports -

Freeman had also admitted driving without insurance, failing to stop at the scene of an accident and failing to report a collision, but the judge said there would be no separate penalty for those offences. Two other charges of perverting the course of justice and driving while disqualified were ordered to lie on file.

That is, his failure to stop, and his failure to report, went unpunished, alongside his attempted perversion of the course of justice, his driving while uninsured, and his driving while disqualified.

Given that, for all he knew, he could have been leaving two young men to die, this is a rather curious omission, to say nothing of the failure to penalise him on any other charge.

The maximum prison sentence for the sole remaining charge of dangerous driving is, as the judge noted, a derisory two years, which he clearly felt to be inadequate. A sentence which was reduced by eight months due to Freeman’s guilty plea, an inevitability in the face of the overwhelming evidence against him.

He may have had a ‘terrible time’ in custody on remand for 28 days, but given how he has got away with the bare minimum punishment, he should be thanking his lucky stars.

Robert Freeman – who let us remind ourselves is aged only 23, and has already managed to rack up multiple drink driving convictions and a conviction for driving while disqualified – decided, within weeks of passing a ‘safer motoring course’ designed to shorten the length of one of those bans, to set out to drive to and from a pub, while still disqualified. He had not regained his licence as a result of that course, as the County Times reports, merely shortened the length of his ban.

Almost certainly drunk – we have no way of knowing for sure, of course, thanks to his devious and callous behaviour – he wrecked the lives of two young servicemen.

Naturally enough, he will be driving again in five years time, because even those who have shown themselves, repeatedly, to be totally incapable of the responsible use of motor vehicles will never, ever, have that right taken away.

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This entry was posted in Car dependence, Dangerous driving, Drink driving, Driving ban, Road safety, Speeding, The judiciary, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Should some people ever be allowed to drive again?

  1. That is truly sickening. Not a lot else to say really accept he should be the poster child for lifetime bans. Unfortunately there isn’t a sure fire way of stopping him from driving ever again, bar keeping this waste of space in prison….

    • Luke says:

      I agree that is likely that he will drive whether banned or not. Short of life imprisonment , hard to know what to do? Does anyone have any idea how many banned drivers keep driving (or are caught doing so)?

      • dan says:

        I think an egregious and deliberate hit and run like this should just have worst case scenario / maximum penalty applied to everything. So if you hit and run drunk, but it can’t be proved that you were drunk, it’s just assumed you were. Similarly it should be assumed you were speeding. This could also extend to drugs; we can’t prove you were on drugs because it was a hit and run, but we are going to assume you were. If this all tots up to life imprisonment – then so be it.

  2. monchberter says:

    How depressing.

    The more authoritarian side of me says that the driving test needs to be augmented with a personality test to identify those people with reckless, thoughtless behaviour that would perhaps predict those people with a propensity towards being unfit to drive.

    • This is something I have given serious consideration to myself, some people just do not have the necessary psychological profile to be allowed to drive a motor vehicle in public. Some lack the spatial awareness and concentration to be trusted with a motor vehicle, some lack the empathy and responsibility to grasp how their use of a motor vehicle might damage or end the lives of others, whilst others have a dangerous sadistic streak which makes them unsuited to being trusted with the power of life and death awarded to them when they are allowed to use a motor vehicle in a public place. It’d be nice to think that everyone could drive if they wanted to, but some people are just not made of the right stuff.

  3. Swerve to avoid a pedestrian? What is a pedestrian? Some kind of traffic cone? Whatever happened to braking?
    There is absolutely no reason why that guy should drive again – ever. He has proven beyond doubt that he is incapable to. There are plenty of buses around for his transport.

  4. Marcus says:

    the article does not state that the police visited the bar and checked the cctv and mr freeman only bought a pint of beer and then was on non alcoholic soft drinks for the rest of the evening.

    • A man with a history of drink-driving convictions spent £45 on soft drinks on a Saturday night? What is your source?

      • Marcus says:

        The bar bill was a tab as there
        We’re about 5 friends, agree he should have stopped, know one of his friends who confirmed he was drinking soft drinks after 1 pint. He is really sorry for what he did and wish he could turn back time.

        • Julian says:

          Marcus, his apparent sobriety doesn’t explain swerving into a bus stop with people there and blatant speeding [in a village high street - come on!] reportedly an aggravating factor. Perhaps you know what was really on his mind?

  5. Marcus says:

    He did stop at the scene but a group of roudy louts were banging on his car so he drove off for safety reasons, yes he should have reported it, but another side that was not reported.

    • A detail that he did not offer in his defence at the trial. How strange.

      • Marcus says:

        Well he did plead guilty and was not proseuted for failing to stop at an accident under s165 rta, so the judge must have felt that there was no grounds for persuing this. Also if they found that from the bar tab bill he consumed more than 1 or 2 pints he could have been done for drink driving and he wasnt.

        • “Also if they found that from the bar tab bill he consumed more than 1 or 2 pints he could have been done for drink driving”

          Simply not true. You cannot be found guilty of drink driving on the basis of a bar tab.

          Why you insist on posting this drivel here, I don’t know.

  6. Sir Velo says:

    Another inconsistency that has not been followed up is the comment by one of the servicemen, Carter, that they wondered whether Freeman drove into them as a result of a perceived slight from earlier in the evening. However, if both parties had been drinking in different establishments it is hard to see how such an encounter could have taken place. Were both parties previously known to each other? Was there a pre-existing feud? All parties were of a similar age and background, so there may well have been some history between them.

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