Judy Ashton must be heartily sick of seeing her photo on the front page. Since the tragic, shocking and needless loss of her daughter, Debbie, in a road accident near her home near Richmond six years ago, Mrs Ashton has battled bravely, tenaciously - and very publicly - for justice and to close a significant loophole in the legal system.
Now, with Debbie's inquest finally held and only the reserved findings to be made public before year's end, Judy Ashton is hanging up the gloves in order to focus on something most of her stage of life take for granted: being a grandparent.
Much of Mrs Ashton's "normal" life has been on hold since December 2006, when a recidivist driving offender hurtled over the then notorious "switchbacks", plunging airborne and on the wrong side of the road into a vehicle driven by Debbie, aged just 20 and very close to her driveway.
To lose a child under such circumstances would be devastating enough for any parent to bear. But amplifying the pain and distress immeasurably was the fact that the errant driver, Jonathan Barclay, should never have been able to drive anywhere that day. A month earlier he had appeared in court under an assumed name assigned under the police witness protection scheme and consequently was treated as a first-time offender, even though he was on parole for other crimes. Had his true record been known he almost certainly would have been locked up again rather than being set free - ultimately, with the most tragic of consequences.
Since then the Tasman District Council has installed three speedhumps on the "switchbacks" - a series of hillocks on Paton Rd - which has reduced the appeal as a racetrack, but Mrs Ashton's main battle has been with the justice system itself.
With the power of single-focus and an undeniable grievance, she has chipped away at the justice system in order to prevent a similar set of circumstances aligning itself with an equally tragic outcome. Specifically, her fight was for changes within the justice system to ensure that courts are made aware of the criminal records of people who are under witness protection, and appearing on charges under officially sanctioned, assumed names.
A highlight of her "journey" was a ministerial inquiry which found individual errors within the police and corrections departments left Barclay at large when he should have been locked away.
Evidence of the effectiveness of her campaign came three months ago, coincidentally involving the same thug responsible for her daughter's death. Barclay - still under the witness scheme and living in Hawke's Bay under yet another false name - in August caused an accident which led to a 3-year-old boy being seriously injured. This time the red flag went up and he was recalled to prison, and now faces new serious driving charges.
Obviously the man is a menace to himself and others and should be kept away from vehicles by any means possible. However, it is good to see the system working. The community owes a debt of gratitude to Mrs Ashton. All will feel profound sympathy for her loss and empathy for the position she found herself in - and wish for her a more peaceful and settled future.
- © Fairfax NZ News