CAMPAIGN: Families back stiffer sentences for killer drivers

Families Bereaved Through Car Crime launch a new Facebook site during a hard-hitting demonstration by the PSNI and Fire Service at Sacred Heart Primary School in west Belfast. Holding the banner are from left James and Kevin Fitzpatrick and Tommy Holland.
Families Bereaved Through Car Crime launch a new Facebook site during a hard-hitting demonstration by the PSNI and Fire Service at Sacred Heart Primary School in west Belfast. Holding the banner are from left James and Kevin Fitzpatrick and Tommy Holland.

A Belfast group consisting of families who lost loved ones to so-called ‘joy-riders’ has firmly backed the News Letter campaign for stiffer sentences for drivers that kill.

Families Bereaved Through Care Crime (FBTCC) spokesman Tommy Holland was speaking yesterday after launching a Facebook site to reach young people with a message about the devastation of car crime.

FBTCC was set up in 2002 after the death of 15-year-old Debbie McComb, who was killed by a prolific joy rider or ‘death driver’ as the group calls them, in west Belfast.

“A number of families whose loved ones were killed were fighting the system on their own,” Tommy said. “Then they heard me talking about it on radio and contacted me and we decided we should work together.”

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“We took thousands of people out onto the streets in a white line protest. One of the death drivers tried to run us down and got nine months in jail.”

Some 1,500 people have been maimed either through being hit by, driving or being carried in a car driven by so-called ‘death riders’ in Northern Ireland, he says.

He strongly backs the News Letter-Johnston Press campaign for stiffer sentence for dangerous drivers. “This campaign will act as a deterrent to careless and dangerous driving,” he said. “These would definitely reduce if people considered the consequences of their actions.

“A slap on the wrist will not deter anyone from texting while driving. This is about waking people up to the fact that even if you are late and in a rush to work or home, you will face a severe sentence if you are guilty of dangerous or careless driving.”

The group held a special event to mark national Road Safety Week at Sacred Heart Primary School on the Old Park Road in Belfast on Tuesday. It is the former school of eight-year-old Kevin Daniel Fitzpatrick, who was knocked down and killed along with his mother Dana by a ‘death driver’ in west Belfast in 2000.

Kevin’s father, also Kevin, and his brother James attended his old school yesterday to mark the event. An annual cup is presented to a pupil at the school each year in Kevin’s memory.

The entire school turned out to watch the PSNI demonstrate the use of a stinger device with patrol cars, to stop a simulated ‘death rider’.

“The aim is to make it very clear to young people how car crime will give you a criminal record, impact on your family and cause the death or serious injury of other people,” Tommy said.

The group previously presented a petition with 50,000 names to Lord Faulkner at Westminster and successfully created a new offence - Aggravated Vehicle Taking.

They also lobbied for the creation of the highly successful PSNI Auto Crime Team in west Belfast.