Death by Drink Driving
Sue and Marks Story: In June 2013 Sue and Mark’s son, Stephen, together with his fiancé, Mandy, were killed following a head-on collision in their Ford KA. The driver of the vehicle that hit them had fallen asleep at the wheel and drifted onto the opposite carriageway. He was twice over the drink-drive limit. He pleaded guilty to Death by Drink-Driving and was sentenced to twelve years in prison, reduced by four years because of his early guilty plea and was banned from driving for ten years.
Stephen, aged 26, was Sue and Mark’s only son. Stephen, a former pure mathematics student at the University of Sheffield, joined the church in 2007 and became part of its staff as a student pastor a year later. Volunteer Mandy was a student life group leader at the church and also helped out with Sunday school and women’s Bible groups.
Sue and Mark were visited by the police shortly after the accident and were informed that Stephen and Mandy had been killed. They had to tell their two daughters of the loss of their much loved brother.
A trial took place in October 2013 and due to the guilty plea Sue and Mark were left with many questions unanswered. They spoke with the offender’s parents who were present at the trial who were also deeply affected by the aftermath of the accident in the knowledge that their 34 year old son would now be in prison for many years to come.
In the summer of 2014 Sue and Mark approached their local MP and the PCC with a view to wanting to meet with the offender in a restorative justice meeting. Arrangements were made to meet with them to discuss what had happened and what they would like to come out of the process. In simple terms they wanted to ask questions of the offender and to have a clearer picture of what had happened on the day of the accident. They wanted the offender to know that they had no anger or hatred towards him and hoped that this would help him to move on with his life.
Arrangements were then made to meet with the offender whilst in prison. He equally wanted the opportunity to speak with Stephen’s parents to explain personally how sorry he was for what he had done and welcomed being given the opportunity to meet with them.
In November 2014 a restorative meeting was arranged at the prison where the offender was detained. Before going into the prison Sue described how she was feeling. She said that she was apprehensive and felt like she was about to ‘jump into a large black hole’ and did not know what was going to be down there.
At the start of the restorative meeting the offender gave a clear account of what had happened on the day of the accident. He accepted that he had spent much of the day drinking at an event some considerable distance from his home and had not originally planned to drive at all that day. However, having left it too late to find accommodation had decided to drive home and later fell asleep at the wheel. He had no recollection of what happened at the scene other than being taken away by the police and placed in a police cell overnight. He explained to Sue and Mark that he only became aware of the enormity of the accident the following day during the police interview. When he learned of the deaths of Stephen and Mandy he was unable to speak and the interview was suspended for 20 minutes. He accepted from that point on that he alone was responsible for what had happened and told Sue and Mark that his life could now never be the same.
The offender stated how ‘heart-breakingly sorry’ he was and regretted the actions for what he had done and for the ‘devastation’ he had caused to everyone whose lives had been affected.
Sue and Mark wanted the offender to know that he had their forgiveness; that they felt no anger towards him and wished to encourage him with his studies whilst in prison. In addition, they informed him that they would be happy to hear from him by letter if the prison would allow this.
The meeting lasted for just over an hour and was extremely emotional. As the offender was about to leave and return to his cell he offered his hand to Mark. Mark shook his hand and then placed his arm around the offender’s shoulder and hugged him.
A few weeks later Sue and Mark were contacted to enquire how they were feeling. They stated that the process had exceeded all of their expectations. Sue explained that anger and bitterness just made people ill. She said, “Being able to see the good that can come from something as horrible as this, to shaking hands and embracing was wonderful".