Justice for Callum Wark: stricter sentences for foreign drink drivers
Alec used an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons on 29th October 2014 to call for stricter sentencing of drivers guilty of causing death whilst under the influence of alcohol. Alec secured the debate in the name of 19 year-old Callum Wark from Swillington, who was killed when his Renault Clio collided with a HGV in March this year. The HGV driver – a Bulgarian national called Stoyan Andonov Stoyanov – was found to be three times over the legal drink drive limit. He was sentenced to just 7 years and 8 months and banned from driving in the UK for 10 years at York Crown Court. Speaking after sentencing in March, Callum’s father, Robert Wark said: “Even though the judge gave the maximum sentence he could in relation to a guilty plea, all the family feel very let down by the justice system knowing he will only serve half the sentence. This has made us feel Callum has had no justice”.
In what was an emotionally charged debate, Alec told the House of Commons: “As their Member of Parliament, nothing I can do or say in this Chamber will restore happiness for Callum’s parents. But we can restore their faith in the criminal justice system by making Callum’s untimely death the reason for a stricter minimum sentence for death while under the influence of alcohol”.
Alec called for the immediate deportation of foreign nationals convicted in the UK and for driving disqualifications to be recognised across the European Union. At present there is no mutual recognition between countries in the EU meaning foreign criminals banned from driving in the UK can return to their own countries and carry on driving. He told MPs he wanted to see: “mutual recognition among EU Member States of driving disqualifications; the deportation of foreign national offenders regardless of their nationality; and a lifetime UK driving ban on foreign nationals convicted of causing death while driving under the influence of alcohol”.
Alec referred to West Yorkshire-based road safety charity, Brake, when he announced that less than 3 in 5 drink drivers who kill receive a sentence of more than five years in prison. Backing the call for stricter sentencing, Gary Rae, campaigns manager for Brake, said: “Through our work with bereaved families we see the traumatic aftermath of a loved one being taken so suddenly and violently from them. Many sentences handed out by the courts amount to a slap in face for families such as Callum’s.” Click here to back Brake charity’s Road Safety Week.
Read the full transcript of Alec’s speech below: “Mr Speaker, Members across this House will have experienced incredibly difficult cases in their own constituency advice surgeries, but for me, few have been as difficult as meeting my constituents Joanne and Robert Wark from Swillington in May this year. Joanne and Robert came to talk to me about their son Callum. They described the 3rd March 1994 – the day Callum was born – as the proudest day of their lives; a gift that completed their world. They say a baby’s character shines a light on the adult they’ll become and this was certainly true of Callum; this happy, well behaved toddler grew to be a kind, gentle person, a thoughtful young man who loved his parents and grandparents dearly.
As a child Callum would regularly visit his Gran and Granddad and was always eager to help with jobs around their house and garden. Joanne and Robert did a first-rate job in bringing up a child any parent would be proud of, a child of compassion and profound generosity. Callum’s school reports talk of a child who didn’t always find school work easy but always worked hard for every educational achievement; the phrase “a pleasure to teach” regularly appeared on his school reports. Callum’s family told me of a school sports day when a five year old Callum – already sports mad – stood on the starting line of a race he was favourite to win. After the claxon had fired and half way through the race, he turned around to see his friend – a friend with learning difficulties – stood rigid on the starting line. Callum turned around, ran back and helped his friend to the finish line. He lost that race, Mr Speaker, but he won many more after that.
Callum attended Brigshaw High School, an outstanding comprehensive school near Allerton Bywater in my constituency. On reaching 16 he secured a part-time job at the well-known Strikes Garden Centre on Swillington Common and decided he wanted to go on to do an apprenticeship – to learn a skill for life and begin a career. He later secured a job at the Wincanton’s warehouse locally, a stopgap from where he applied for many apprenticeships. He didn’t do too well in maths at school, something he needed for the apprenticeships he was applying, so Callum took it upon himself to enrol on additional maths courses that he attended on his days off. I’m sure the House will agree with me that Callum’s work ethic and self-motivation is something we would wish to see in all young adults in Britain today. Just as I had to, Callum worked hard and saved up so he could afford and insure his first car. He cherished that new found freedom – as all new drivers do – and his new car became his pride and joy.
When I met Joanne and Robert for the first time, Mr Speaker, I noted that Callum’s placid, permanently selfless nature seemed quite uncommon of teenagers today. But they were quick to assure me that Callum had “the usual teenager tantrums”, yet they were equally as quick to add that “he never caused us or anyone else any trouble”.
At 2:47 in the afternoon of the 1st March this year – two days before his twentieth birthday – Callum was killed when his Renault Clio was hit by a heavy goods vehicle on the A162 between Ledsham and Fairburn, just outside my constituency. Mr Speaker, the driver of that heavy goods vehicle – a Bulgarian national called Stoyan Andonov Stoyanov – was found to be under the influence of alcohol. He was jailed for just 7 years – likely to serve only half – and banned from driving in the UK for ten years.
To put that into context, in 2024 when Callum should’ve been celebrating his thirtieth birthday, perhaps with a family of his own and a good career, his killer could be driving on UK roads again; enjoying all the freedoms of life that his reckless actions took from Callum. At the end of that initial meeting with Callum’s parents in Garforth Library last May, Joanne turned to me – and with little hope left in her voice – thanked me. She thanked me not for my offer of support but for doing something that nobody else had done; nobody had asked to hear about Callum the individual, the son, the grandson, the much loved friend, the innocent teenager enthusiastic about the excitements of the life he had yet to experience.
Callum was not merely a number Mr Speaker, nor is he now merely a statistic of road traffic fatalities. Those who knew Callum had little doubt that he would one day go on to great things and today we can make a legacy in his memory, we can give his parents justice and give a meaning to his untimely death. An amendment to the law in name of Callum Wark. Stoyan Andonov Stoyanov was found to be more than three times over the legal drink drive limit and admitted to drinking a full bottle of spirits in the 24 hours before the crash. Despite this, he knowingly placed himself behind the wheel of his heavy goods vehicle.
There may have been no malice aforethought in his actions, Mr Speaker, but my constituents – and hundreds of campaigners who have signed their petition – believe that such actions certainly constitute unlawful act manslaughter. Those calling for stricter sentencing for drink drivers who kill argue that the deterrent isn’t great enough – according to the West Yorkshire-based road safety charity, Brake, evidence suggests that the current system to tackle repeat drink driving isn’t working: one in 8 drink drivers do it repeatedly, and as many as 3 in 10 high-risk offenders reoffend.
Mr Speaker, repeat offending is one of the major issues with drink driving, yet the penalties are the same no matter how many times an individual reoffends. In 2004, the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving when under the influence of alcohol or drugs was increased to 14 years. Yet, criminal justice statistics recently published by Brake show less than 3 in 5 drink drivers who kill receive a sentence of more than five years in prison. It is my understanding that a Sentencing Council review is soon to take place and therefore, on behalf of my constituents – and all victims of death by drink driving – call on the Ministry of Justice to review charges under the Road Traffic Act of 1991 and introduce a strict minimum sentence – an amendment to the law in the name of Callum Wark – to ensure that those guilty of causing death whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs serve a stricter minimum sentence in custody.
Mr Speaker, I dare say nobody can begin to understand the emotional torment and heartbreak of the families of those victims of road traffic fatalities. There is little one can say to offer comfort in those circumstances. But for my constituents, the difficulty of that experience was only made worse by the insensitivity of the Crime Prosecution Service. This, more than anything else, affirmed to my constituents that in the eyes of the CPS – and certainly of their CPS solicitor, Sarah Nelson – Callum was just another number, a statistic. Charities such as Break offer fantastic support services to the victims of crime and I know Members across the House will want to support their 17th annual Road Safety Week on 17th November. But whilst charities perform a vital role in bereavement support, from the experiences of my constituents the same cannot be said for the CPS. This may not be the case across the board Mr Speaker and Members might know of cases where their own constituents received excellent support from CPS lawyers, but I can only speak from the information relayed to me by my own constituents, and that showed support and understanding of victims’ families is desperately deficient.
Perhaps therefore, the Crime Prosecution Service might look at additional training for those acting on behalf of those in bereavement. Justice is often sought as a comfort Mr Speaker, it is sought after the most horrific of events but it rarely delivers the sense of closure those who seek it desire. Justice is not about compensation, real justice is knowing that the killer of your only child receives a custodial sentence befitting of his crime. But more than that, justice should be about triggering change – a deterrent to prevent these terrible incidents happening to another innocent victim.
Callum’s killer was a Bulgarian national. A European citizen.
In recent months there has been much discussion in this House and across my constituency of the advantages and disadvantages of the European Union. For now at least, Britain is a member of that Union and my constituents would expect that the UK uses its position within it to bring about new measures to protect British citizens here in the UK and in Europe. At present, there is no mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between EU member states other than that between the UK and Ireland.
In short, despite a 10 year ban on UK roads, in three years’ time Mr Stoyanov could return to Bulgaria and resume driving anywhere within the European Economic Area. With 1.8 million Brits living and working in Europe, he will remain a threat to British citizens abroad despite a 10 year driving ban in the UK. Here on my UK driving licence, in the top left hand corner, is the flag of the European Union. It suggests that it is an EU-wide compatible driving licence, carrying a standard format recognisable by officials in all EU Member States, it is meant to make it harder for drivers banned in one country to carry on driving undetected in another, yet in practice it is meaningless, Mr Speaker. According to the European Union’s mission statement, its second priority is “to promote and protect democracy and universal rights in Europe”. But with rights must come responsibility and it cannot be right that a foreign national sentenced in the UK and banned from driving here can then return to his native country – a country within the European Union – and avoid a ban imposed in UK courts. If the EU sees fits to protect universal rights in Europe then surely it must be an obligation of Member States to ensure that responsibilities are universal too. For what, Mr Speaker, is a Union with no collective responsibilities but a talking shop of ideologies. On behalf of my constituents I urge Ministers to open renegotiations with the European Commission with a view to reaching a mutual recognition of driving disqualifications across Member States.
On sentencing Stoyan Andonov Stoyanov at York Crown Court earlier this year the Judge indicated that the court would apply for a deportation order on completion of a custodial sentence. My constituents expect that this order will be granted and the individual deported. Yet current guidelines on the deportation of foreign national offenders, under Section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007, does highlight a discrepancy between those national within and those national outside of the European Economic Area. For example, under present deportation threshold criteria, non-EEA nationals sentenced to 12 months or more are considered for deportation by the UK Borders Agency, whereas deportation is only considered for EEA nationals who are sentenced for 24 months or over, unless they relate to drugs, sex, violence or – and I quote – “other serious criminal activity”.
I ask the House today, when considering the protection of British citizens at home, what is the difference between a foreign national offender from Bulgaria and, for example, a foreign national offender a few miles over the border in Turkey? Is a criminal from Burgas any less of a criminal than one from Dereköy. Does membership of the European Economic Area suddenly make a Member State’s criminals a lesser threat to UK citizens than those from another country? I think not, Mr Speaker. If you are a foreign national convicted in a UK court then you should be subject to the same deportation threshold criteria irrespective of whether your home country is a Member State of some international economic community. My constituents and I therefore urge Ministers to review deportation criteria for EEA foreign national offenders and decrease the deportation threshold to a sentence of 12months, thereby removing existing nepotism toward nationals within the European Economic Area. I make that request because it was evident from the court case itself that Callum’s killer had no better understanding of British law or customs merely because he was a foreign national from within the European Union. In court, it was evident that Mr Stoyanov knew little of the English language, neither to speak nor understand it. He declared to know nothing about the Highway Code nor of UK drink driving laws.
Mr Speaker, a broader political debate arises from these issues but this debate is not the place to air those thoughts today. But what is evident is that Mr Stoyanov – and the foreign haulage company he worked for – showed no knowledge or effort to understand the UK Highway Code – and our drink drive laws – before he entered the UK. Let us be clear, the foreign haulage firm sending its heavy goods vehicles across Europe and into the United Kingdom has a duty of care to ensure its employees understand the laws of the road in the UK.
Mr Speaker, it is telling of what kind of a company Mr Stoyanov worked for when the only interest they showed as regards the death of my constituent was their repeat enquires to secure the return of their expensive heavy goods vehicle. Perhaps when Ministers next meet with Commissioners in the European Union, they might wish to address this issue and encourage Member States to look at the effectiveness and content of assessments for the distribution of Large Goods Vehicle licences across Europe.
Finally Mr Speaker, it is for the reasons I have discussed this evening that my constituents believe a review of sentencing for convicted foreign drivers is desperately needed. But I don’t believe stricter custodial sentencing is enough to deter others from driving whilst drunk in the UK. For those convicted foreign drivers, such as Mr Stoyanov, driving is their livelihood and current sentencing guidelines – along with no restrictions on those subject to a deportation order one day reapplying for entry to the UK – means there is no reason why Callum’s killer cannot be back driving his HGV on UK roads in ten years’ time.
The United Kingdom needs to send a strong message to foreign nationals who chose to ignore – or plead ignorant to – our drink drive laws. My constituents therefore ask Ministers – when reviewing sentencing guidelines – that a lifetime driving ban on driving in the UK be considered for foreign nationals convicted of causing death whilst driving under the influence of alcohol.
Mr Speaker, Joanne and Robert asked me to share these word with the House today: “Callum was our only child, he was our world and our lives are now meaningless with no future to look forward to. We will never know if Callum would have been blessed with a family of his own, or if one day we could be a Grandma and Granddad ourselves. We will never get the chance to see Callum grow into the fine young man we know he would have been and we will never see our child achieve his goals and dreams. Next year was going to be a big year for family celebrations, Callum would have been 21 and we are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, but now, our hearts and world have been torn apart and our lives destroyed. Yet in a few years Callum’s killer will return to his family in Bulgaria and his life will carry on. Our lives stopped on the 1st March…”
As their Member of Parliament, nothing I can do or say in this Chamber today will restore happiness for my constituents Joanne and Robert Wark, but we can restore their faith in the criminal justice system by making Callum’s death the reason for a stricter minimum sentence for death while under the influence of alcohol; for better victim support and understanding of bereavement within the Criminal Prosecution Service; for mutual recognition of driving disqualifications within the European Union; for regulation on foreign haulage companies driving in the UK; for the deportation of convicted foreign nationals; and for a lifetime UK driving ban on foreign nationals convicted of causing death whilst driving under the influence of alcohol.
It is too late to change what happened to my constituent on 1st March this year, Mr Speaker, but it is not too late to bring about justice for Callum Wark – and make his untimely death the motivation for change.”