Moves afoot to ban killer drivers

Last updated 13:00 20/02/2013
DEBBIE ASHTON: Died in a 2006 head-on crash. Jonathan Barclay was convicted of her manslaughter.
DEBBIE ASHTON: Died in a 2006 head-on crash. Jonathan Barclay was convicted of her manslaughter.

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Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee has backed a coroner's call to make prisoners serve their driving bans after they are freed, not while they are still in jail.

Coroner Garry Evans' recommendation is contained in his report into the death of a young Nelson woman in a car crash caused by a paroled criminal who was on a witness protection programme at the time.

Debbie Ashton, 20, died when repeat driving offender Jonathan Barclay - a former P addict - smashed into her car while speeding and drunk, near Nelson in December 2006.

Barclay has twice served out driving bans while in prison for more serious offending, and both times has gone on to crash into other people.

Ms Ashton's mother, Judy, believes that, if Mr Evans' proposed law change had been in place, Barclay would have been behind bars at the time of the crash, and her daughter would still be alive.

Mr Brownlee said he had asked officials from the Justice and Transport ministries to look into the recommendation. Any change would require a law change, which meant it would have to be put before Parliament.

"On the face of it, I support the change. I will expect a report in the coming weeks on this matter."

He was unable to say how many people had avoided disqualification because of the length of their prison sentences. However, it would probably form part of the planned discussions, he said.

Mrs Ashton was delighted to hear of Mr Brownlee's support. "It's fantastic, and I hope he follows through with it."

She described the present law, allowing dangerous or drunk drivers to serve their bans in jail, as a farce.

It made a mockery of the disqualification, because prisoners could not drive while in jail, so there was no element of punishment for the crime, she said.

"I want people to know the horrendous impact these crashes have on families. It is assault or murder with a vehicle."

In 2006, Barclay was freed on parole having served two years for crimes including fraud, theft, burglary, drug and driving charges. Having served his driving ban, he got another licence and a new name as he entered the police witness protection scheme.

Within two months, he was caught driving recklessly after failing to stop for police and was banned from driving. Eight days later, he was caught drink-driving.

But when he appeared in court - in spite of senior police and Corrections Department officials knowing he was using a new name - he was treated as a first-time offender by a judge who had no idea of his history.

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The following month he killed Miss Ashton.

He later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to five years' jail.

When he was freed on parole from that sentence in 2011, he assumed another name and got another licence, having again served his ban in jail.

Sixteen months later, with two young children in his car, he did a U-turn on the Hawke's Bay expressway and collided with a truck. He injured himself, a woman, and the two children. Barclay - whose new name is suppressed - has since pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, and driving under the influence of a controlled drug, and is to be sentenced later this month.

Mrs Ashton said she had been through six years of hell.

She was "not bitter now but disappointed" with failures by Corrections, police and a law that allowed people like Barclay to drive and kill people.

She received apologies in 2008 from police and Corrections for preventable errors and failings that contributed to her daughter's death.

TIMELINE

2005: Jonathan Barclay jailed for 32 months for escaping custody, fraud, theft, burglary, drug and driving offences. His previous convictions included dishonesty, drug and driving offences.

May 2006: Freed on parole and admitted to police witness protection scheme using a new name. July 2006: Caught driving recklessly and failing to stop.

October 2006: Sentenced to community work, banned from driving. Eight days later caught drink-driving. November 2006: Appears in court on drink-driving charge using a new name. Treated as first offender and fined $500. Lost his licence and was freed.

December 2006: Kills Debbie Ashton, 20, in car crash.

May 2007: Admits manslaughter, conspiring to defeat justice and driving while disqualified. Sentenced to 5 years' jail.

August 2012: Crashes into truck on Hawke's Bay expressway, while living under another new name. Pleads guilty to dangerous driving and driving under the influence of a controlled drug. Recalled to prison by the Parole Board.

February 2013: Coroner Garry Evans issues his report into the death of Debbie Ashton and recommends the Government change the law so prisoners serve any driving ban once freed, not while in jail.

- The Nelson Mail

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