Jail for drink-drive woman who caused death of Dales businessman Tom Bannister

Debbie Barker arriving at Bradford Crown Court. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Debbie Barker arriving at Bradford Crown Court. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
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A DRINK-driver who fled the scene after crashing her Range Rover into a wall and killing her friend while twice the legal limit has been jailed.

Debbie Barker was sentenced to three years behind bars for getting behind the wheel drunk and causing the crash which led to the death of her close friend, popular North Yorkshire hotelier Thomas Bannister, then taking off and failing to alert emergency services.

Tom Bannister outside Coniston Hall

Tom Bannister outside Coniston Hall

Bradford Crown Court heard how Barker, 43, did not dial 999 and instead left the area on foot and waited two hours after the incident before she called Mr Bannister’s father to inform him of what had happened.

When the ambulance finally arrived, Mr Bannister was found to have suffered severe trauma injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Around two hours later, officers from North Yorkshire Police found Barker walking through a field towards her home in Coniston Cold, where she gave two positive breath tests.

Ian Howard, prosecuting, told the court the pair had been at a function at The Coniston Hotel, where Mr Bannister was a director of his family’s business, in June last year, when Barker had offered him a lift home.

While the exact details of what caused the crash have not been established, it is believed Barker failed to negotiate to negotiate a moderate bend and hit a wall, throwing Mr Bannister from the car.

Mr Howard said: “At 3.27am police officers attended the defendant’s home. She was not there and there were two mobile phones on the kitchen table.

“They searched the surrounding area and at 4.09am they found her in a field.”

Barker then gave several positive breath tests.

Mr Howard said the call to Michael Bannister was “probably made about two hours after the accident had taken place”.

He said she knew she was over the legal limit and wanted to stall being tested.

Malcolm Swift QC, mitigating, said: “She was lying down in the field about 20ft from the house.

“She says she didn’t know how she came to be in the that position but she came round when she heard voices.”

The Recorder of Bradford Judge Roger Thomas QC said Barker had done everything “to keep herself out of the way and avoid detection” and “the only sensible reason is she was trying to lie low and avoid the situation”.

Barker had previously pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving whilst over the prescribed limit and failing to report an accident.

Sentencing her to three years in prison, Judge Thomas said: “You must have been significantly over the prescribed limit for driving.

He added that Barker should have know it was her responsibilty to give assistance to her friend.

The court heard that the Barker and the Bannister families had enjoyed a close relationship before the crash on June 22 last year.

Relatives of Mr Bannister, who was well known in his community as a businessman and countryside sports enthusiast, were said to have supported Barker in the wake of the incident.

On top of yesterday’s prison sentence Barker, of Gargrave, was also banned from driving for five years.

Traffic Constable Andy Macleod, of North Yorkshire Police’s roads policing group, said: “Barker showed a callous disregard for Mr Bannister’s welfare when she left the scene of the collision. The sentence reflects the gravity of the offences.”

Gerry Wareham, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor, CPS Yorkshire and Humberside said: “Debbie Barker has pleaded guilty to causing the death of Thomas Bannister by careless driving whilst over the prescribed limit of alcohol, and failing to report an accident.

“Today she has been sentenced to three years in prison and disqualified from driving for five years.

“By getting behind the wheel of her vehicle after she had been drinking she took a huge and irresponsible risk and, very sadly, Mr Bannister paid for it with his life. She then neglected to alert emergency services as soon as practicable and it was several hours after the accident before any potential help arrived.

“Thomas Bannister was very well-known and much-loved in the local community. He was a father, a son and a friend to many and will be sorely missed.

“This terrible case has resulted in the loss of his life and devastated that of many others. I hope it serves as a stark warning of the potentially tragic consequences of drinking and driving.”