MP bids for Whitlam’s Law

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Elmet & Rothwell MP Alec Shelbrooke secured an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons today, calling for a change in the law to allow the prosecution of driving offences committed on private land.

The amendment - dubbed Whitlam’s Law - came about after 11-year old Harry Whitlam was killed at Swithens Farm, Rothwell in August 2013 after he was hit by a tractor driven by a farm worker twice over the legal drink-drive limit.

The Crime Prosecution Service (CPS) were unable to bring a prosecution under drink-driving legislation (Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act) because the accident had taken place on private land.

The only punishment available was for the Health & Safety Executive to prosecute the driver for “Failing to ensure the safety of persons other than employees, contrary to Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Had the driver been prosecuted under drink-driving laws his likely sentence would have been six years (the crime attracts a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment). Instead, he was sentenced to just 16 months and 2 weeks.

Introducing a motion to the House of Commons, Alec Shelbrooke MP said: “The death of 11-year old Harry Whitlam in 2013 stunned our community, but it was the lack of prosecution that shocked us to the core.

“Harry died after the tractor reversed into him at Swithens Farm in Rothwell. An inquest later heard that the driver was twice over the legal alcohol limit on the day of the crash. He was not prosecuted at the time as the incident happened on private land.

“This case has highlighted an anomaly in the law. Because Harry’s killer was operating a vehicle on private land whilst under the influence of alcohol he could not be prosecuted in the same way he would have been had the incident happened on a public highway.

“There is an urgent need for parity of esteem when it comes to causing death by dangerous driving whether on public of private land and I hope this Adjournment Debate will trigger a change in the law in this respect”.

Responding to the debate in the House of Commons, the Minister of State for Transport, John Hayes, said: “I am pleased to tell the House that I will consider how we might address the matter, including the possibility of future legislative reform.

“I am not able today to say exactly how the law will change, but given the short time from the point when this debate was announced, doing otherwise would have indicated that we had not thought this through properly.

“The implications of any such move will be planned carefully and considered, and we will proceed with certainty as a result of that deliberation. But I tell Members this: we will proceed with the firm intention that tragedies such as Harry Whitlam’s might be prevented in the future.”