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.
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
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.
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.
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 arent all young people who find themselves
in these circumstances engaging in this activity?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Chancellors
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.
Attorney General has the power under the 1998 Criminal
Justice Act to appeal such sentences through the courts
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.
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?
is here we enter a Punishment Vs Rehabilitation debate.
Which is an issue I believe for future writing.
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