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Bravery in the face of this menace

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Nicola Miller
Nicola Miller

On the evening of November 10, 2016, the life of the Danks family changed forever when a drink-driver crashed into the back of their daughter Lauren’s car at 104mph.

Nelson Curtis failed to stop after the collision, driving almost two miles with only three wheels on his car. He had drunk ten pints of beer in what was described as an all-day binge in a Lakenheath pub, before getting behind the wheel and killing Lauren who was aged just 22.

To read the impact statements from Lauren’s parents is to experience a fraction of their visceral agony. They make for unbearable reading. Lauren’s dad, Robert, spoke of the appalling moment when, realising she was late home from her job at Center Parks, he got into his own car to go out and look for her.

“I entered the A11 at Red lodge heading towards Five Ways roundabout. I noticed an accident recovery truck with its amber lights flashing so I assumed it might be Lauren with a puncture being picked up! From out of nowhere I saw the blue lights of an ambulance and fire engine heading towards Lauren, as I drove further a police car overtook me,

“I was starting to worry.

“I arrived at the scene, I could see Lauren’s car upside down.”

Mr Danks was told at the scene that Lauren had not survived. The horror of this moment must have been unspeakable yet he bravely managed to articulate his pain in court.

This is why the annual Christmas drink-driving campaign by Suffolk and Norfolk’s head of roads policing and crime commissioners is so important and this year the judicial process has been streamlined to ensure dangerous drivers are removed from the road as swiftly as possible. Courts will have designated time slots in order to deal with those caught drink or drug driving. It is a relief to know that offenders may end up losing their licences within 24 hours of being caught.

Unfortunately, there remains a hard core of drivers who are undeterred. Whether through alcohol and drug dependency or because they are heartless and selfish, they continue to drive while under the influence of the substance of their choice and even when caught, the subsequent sentence they receive seems inadequate, barely reflecting the terrible consequences of their crime.

In court, it was revealed that Nelson Curtis had two previous convictions with subsequent bans for drink and dangerous driving. In June of this year, he was jailed for seven years at Ipswich Crown Court but is likely to serve only half of the sentence.

How do you place a value on a human life? I don’t know what an ‘appropriate’ sentence is for the killing of a young woman returning home from her first day of a new job. How can anyone measure the impact upon her young brothers, the mother who spent every day with her daughter’s body as it rested in a local mortuary and then brought her home the night before the funeral, the devastating loss endured by her grandparents, friends, and colleagues? Lauren’s death will have an effect well beyond the lifetime of her remaining family: an entire branch of the Danks family tree has been amputated by a man who flouted the law in the most horrendous manner.

I do know that seven years does not seem adequate a response and this must be frustrating for the police too. Imprisonment is about rehabilitation and punishment through the deprivation of liberty. Imprisonment is designed to keep society safe from people like Nelson Curtis whose recidivism dates back to 2003, the date of his second offence. He has clearly shown us the kind of man he is and if he cannot keep others safe, society must do it on his behalf.

Driving while intoxicated is not an unpremeditated crime. When we pick up that first drink we know what the consequences should we order a second, and then a third. We know that cars become deadly weapons when driven by drunks. Should pubs take more responsibility? Certainly, there’s an argument that any pub caught serving someone until they can ‘barely walk’ as Curtis was described is behaving irresponsibly. There’s an even bigger argument that any establishment that knowingly serves alcohol to drivers in excess of safe driving levels should face legal consequences. However, this risks mitigating the personal accountability of every drinker to remain within the law.

Lauren is gone forever. I can’t imagine how her family lives with this but it is a testimony to their strength, and the strength of their love for their daughter, that they have endorsed the police campaign. They want legislation to go much further though. Unlike Nelson Curtis, the family of Lauren Danks has the best interests of all road users at heart when they call for tougher sentencing and discussion about the responsibilities of publicans and the general public in helping to remove these menaces from our roads.