Failures in the justice system surrounding the death of a grandmother killed by a gang in a stolen lorry are being highlighted by her grieving brother. Chris Burn reports.
“As far as I am concerned, our family has been let down all the way through Jackie’s case by the justice system,” says Johnny Wood as the ex-miner prepares to head to Westminister this week to outline what he sees as the litany of failures surrounding the death of his sister Jacqueline Wileman last year at the hands of a gang of criminals.
His family’s nightmare began on an early-autumn day last year shortly after Mrs Wileman, a 58-year-old grandmother, left her home in Grimethorpe, South Yorkshire, to go on her regular daily walk.
“She would do 6.5 miles every day, exactly the same route,” Johnny, who is due to meet Justice Minister Robert Buckland on Wednesday with his wife Jill and local MP Stephanie Peacock, explains. “People used to set their watches by her.”
But on September 14 last year at close to the halfway point of her daily journey in the normally-quiet village of Brierley, Jackie was killed in an incident so shocking and appalling that some locals believed a terrorist attack had just taken place.
At 1.37pm that day, a stolen lorry carrying four men and travelling at almost twice the speed limit careered around a bend in Brierley. The eight-and-a-quarter tonne vehicle, travelling at its maximum possible speed of 55mph in a 30mph with no brakes applied, lost control and smashed into a car coming in the opposite direction before mounting the pavement and hitting Jackie.
She was killed instantly but was dragged further down the road as the lorry went on to hit two more cars and smashed into a house, causing such ruinous damage the property is only now being rebuilt.
A passing cyclist also narrowly escaped death – with the vehicle just missing him as it ploughed into the house.
Three of the four men who had been in the lorry then attempted to run off, with the only one who didn’t being trapped in the vehicle. Those who tried to escape were quickly apprehended – two were grabbed by passers-by, with the other arrested shortly afterwards at a nearby hotel.
It soon became apparent they were not terrorists but instead of group of local criminals high on drink and drugs who had taken the stolen lorry on a ‘joy-ride’ that had seen them speeding, drive on the wrong side of the road, go down one-way streets the wrong way and repeatedly stop to steal fuel from petrol stations in the 90 minutes before the fatal crash.
Johnny says: “People thought it was terrorists, it was like a terrorist act. But it was four lowlifes causing havoc.”
He says he had been about to set off for a weekend away in Scarborough when he heard the first information about what had happened to Jackie, a mother-of-two whose husband Danny had died three years earlier.
“I was just about to get changed to set off when we got a phone call from a friend of ours. She said you need to get to your Jackie’s, she has been in an accident and we think it is fatal. I just drove over hoping it wasn’t true. But when we arrived, the police were already there.”
The family’s pain was only just beginning. Over the course of the next few months and a Crown Court trial that took place earlier this year, information gradually came to light which Johnny believes shows his sister’s death could have prevented if the justice system had been functioning properly.
One of the four men involved, 48-year-old HGV driver David Mellor, had stolen the vehicle from his employee two days before the incident and was under the supervision of the Probation Service at the time. Sheffield Crown Court heard Mellor had “previous convictions of a considerable number”, including for dangerous driving.
But Johnny says that despite Mellor’s involvement in the theft being suspected and him being on probation at the time, attempts to find the vehicle in the two days before the fatal crash occurred were limited. Johnny says one police officer told him that due to Government cutbacks hitting policing numbers, there had only been two officers available to look for the lorry in the time it was missing.
“At the beginning there were not enough police to look for the lorry, the defendant who stole the lorry was on probation and when it was discovered he had stolen it, the light should have gone up to say this involves a guy on probation and sorted it out as a priority,” he says.
The Probation Service, who Johnny is due to meet tomorrow, has been undertaking an internal review into its actions in what Mr Buckland has already described in Parliament as a “horrifying case”. “I believe that if the Probation Service had done their job, Jackie would still be here,” Johnny says.
The family were dealt a further blow after enduring the events of her death being relived in graphic detail in a court case that took place earlier this year and ran over the course of three weeks.
After the CPS took the rare decision to charge all four of the gang, including the three passengers, with death by dangerous driving, the man who had been behind the wheel Karn Hill pleaded guilty but his three co-defendants Mellor, Alan Mawhinney and Wayne Carroll pleaded not guilty, leading to the trial.
Caroll’s previous offending included being jailed in 2015 for a previous death by dangerous driving offence when he had run down a pedestrian in Havercroft, near Wakefield, the year before.
The three other men were found guilty but when it came to sentencing Judge Jeremy Richardson QC made clear the maximum sentence he was allowed to impose per defendant was 14 years. It came despite the Government committing in late 2017 to introducing life sentences for those who cause death by dangerous driving. Despite the pledge, no legislation to make this the law has yet been passed meaning the current regulations still stand.
Mellor was sentenced to 13 years in jail, Mawhinney and Carroll to 12-and-a-half years each and Hill to 10-and-a-half years. Johnny says the delay in amending the maximum possible sentences was a further blow to the family and all those who had known Jackie.
“The situation is a joke but we are not laughing,” says Johnny. “It is not until it affects people that can change the laws that they will actually change the law. When it affects a little mining community like Grimethorpe, it doesn’t seem to count.”
He says the impact of his sister’s death is ongoing but he hopes the terrible events of her death can lead to legal changes.
“I have never seen a community come together as much as what they did in Grimethorpe since the Miners’ Strike. The support has been amazing. It hasn’t just been an impact on my family or our friends, it has been an impact on the whole community.
“It has been a rollercoaster of emotions. The anger inside my body is unbelievable. People are being let down and failed in so many ways in this country and our family have been let down. People say to me the way you have handled it has been amazing. But they don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, nobody knows the tears that have come out of my body.”
MP calls for Government action
Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock says she hopes this week’s meeting with the Justice Minister will “give Jacqueline’s family the opportunity to bring our campaign to Westminster and speak first-hand to those who have the power to make the change”.
“The Government has committed to ending lenient sentences for death caused by dangerous driving, yet the maximum sentence has yet to be increased,” she says.
“Alongside Johnny, I’ll be pressing the Minister to bring forward these changes immediately, scrap the lenient sentences, and give justice to Jacqueline and her family.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: "This was a deeply tragic case and our sympathies are with Mrs Wileman’s family.
“Killer drivers ruin lives which is why we intend to give courts the power to hand down life sentences for death by dangerous driving - sending a clear message to those who drive irresponsibly. We will bring forward proposals for changes in the law when parliamentary time allows.”