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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Joy or Death
Aine Fox • The Other View, 2003

At the beginning of the eighties a social problem in urban Belfast was identified. That problem was car crime - it involved youths stealing cars, not for use in terrorist activity but using them for their own enjoyment. It was defined and known widely as “joyriding”. The joy did not last long, if it did ever give joy to anyone apart from those who where known as “joyriders”. Statiscs show that the activity was popular with predominantly young working class males, although the offenders were not exclusively male.

It was not long before serious injury and fatalities were a consequence of a night out combined with alcohol, drugs, and solvents combined with attempting to control a stolen car at high speed through populated areas.

In recent years this activity has plagued areas of West Belfast and beyond. Many intervention programmes failed to eliminate the problem and all measures, including specific RUC car crime units, have failed to prevent such crime rising. In 2000/2001 according to the Chief Constable's report only 11.4 % of car crime was cleared by investigations. That leaves a total of 9,570 unsolved offences. The clearance rate has decreased in 2001/2002 with a mere 8.9% clearance - that leaves 10,639 thefts unsolved.

Many lives and families have been the victim of this activity, which is now more widely defined as death driving with the prepatrators now known as death drivers. Although the sentencing and criminal charges often faced are mainly traffic offences, regardless of official charges the drivers and passengers in these stolen cars have killed indiscriminately.

Families Bereaved Through Car Crime, a campaign that has set forward a list of demands, primarily aimed at the perceived policy of soft sentencing on car crime offenders. The campaign has actively lobbied government representatives, their aim being to change the sentencing laws of these young ‘killers’ at large. The families have also been victims of these crimes, losing loved ones and attempting consistently to have their ‘killers’ face justice. The campaign has been instrumental in mobilising local communities to protest and gather in opposition to the “death drivers”.

As a youth worker and advocate for young people I find it hard to immediately refer to these young people as ''killers''. They are from areas with sometimes the highest deprivation rates and from backgrounds where they have to deal with a variety of problems. (So why aren’t all young people who find themselves in these circumstances engaging in this activity?)

For many years I have worked directly with young people participating in this activity both within the community and within the juvenile justice system. It is a widely agreed notion among many juvenile justice professionals that the system fails both victims and offenders with the lenient attitudes and sentences generally given to those involved in car crime.

Do these young people go out and steal cars with the intent to kill? Maybe not, but when driving at high speeds in cars often filled beyond capacity, inexperienced and often intoxicated drivers will make grave errors of judgement resulting in injury and/or death. These young people are indeed a danger to our communities. One could liken “death driving” to walking around with a ticking bomb - sooner or later it will go off and someone will get harmed or even worse killed.

Young people have lost their own lives in this way as well as killing others. The fact of the matter within these scenarios was explained in a recent open letter in a local paper from a family who lost a young man at the hands of “death drivers”.

“No one accidently steals a car, and drives at high speed through crowds of people, knock someone down, drive off and leave them lying on the road to die, then burn the car”.

This is indeed a familiar experience for many families (over twenty people have been killed in this way). For the family of Debbie Mc Comb the Justice System was failing them in their right to justice. Representatives of “ Families Bereaved Through Car Crime “ met with and pressurised the Lord Chancellor’s office in a successful bid to appeal that the charge of “death by dangerous driving” be reinstated against the 20yr old accused of killing 15 yr old Debbie Mc Comb in a stolen car.

The Attorney General has the power under the 1998 Criminal Justice Act to appeal such sentences through the court’s system. Although this has occurred several times in cases of driving related charges in the North many like myself will hope that the appropriate charges reinstated will act as a precedent for those still currently seeking justice for their loved ones.

The Criminal Justice System needs to reevaluate its stance in many areas. The punishment must act as a deterrent to taking part in such activity. If, however, the traditional route of our “Community Police” shooting and systematically beating and maiming people has not been a deterrent then what will be?

It is here we enter a Punishment Vs Rehabilitation debate. Which is an issue I believe for future writing.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



I have spent
many years of my life
in opposition, and
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- Eleanor Roosevelt

Index: Current Articles

12 June 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Crippling Critique
Anthony McIntyre


Joy or Death
Aine Fox


Telling it like it is

Anna Livia FM, Transcript


The Conveyer Belt of Informers



World Exclusive!
Jimmy Sands


Connolly and Republican Socialist Organisational Strategy
Liam O Ruairc


9 June 2003


Money's Worth
Terry O'Neill


Connolly: National Liberation, Socialism and Partition
Liam O Ruairc


Pauperizing the Periphery
M. Shahid Alam


Democracy, eh?

Davy Carlin


Polluting People's Lives

Barbara Muldoon


The Gags of Prejudice
Anthony McIntyre




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