Change of law to be considered after case of boy killed by a drink-driver on private land

Harry Whitlam
Harry Whitlam

DRINK-DRIVERS who kill on private land face the prospect of harsher sentences after a transport minister pledged to consider a law change.

John Hayes said he is willing to meet Pamela Whitlam, whose 11-year-old son Harry died after he was struck by a reversing farm vehicle driven by a man more than twice the legal driving limit.

Gary Green, of Wakefield, was given a sentence of 16 months and two weeks in prison for health and safety violations which contributed to Harry’s death at Swithens Farm, Rothwell, on August 9 2013.

But Green could not be prosecuted under road traffic laws because Harry’s death happened on private land.

Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) said such an offence on public land would bring a maximum jail term of 14 years under road traffic laws, with the potential for an unlimited fine and a driving ban of at least two years.

He called for “Whitlam’s Law” in order to change the Road Traffic Act to consider driving offences on private land as criminal offences.

Mr Hayes said he would consider the “possibility of future legislative reform”, adding in the Commons: “We will proceed with the firm intention that tragedies such as Harry Whitlam’s might be prevented in the future.”

Mr Shelbrooke, leading a Commons debate, said: “Harry Whitlam is dead because of a drink-driver, and it shames us all (Green) cannot be prosecuted because of a loophole in the law that some solicitors out there would exploit to get people off what is a crime.”

Mr Shelbrooke concluded by reading a statement from Mrs Whitlam, in which she said: “It is a sad fact that some law firms pride themselves on exploiting this legal loophole, using it to get drivers acquitted of drink-driving offences.”

Mr Hayes, replying for the Government, said he was pleased to tell MPs action would be considered. He said: “I will consider how we might progress this, including the possibility of future legislative reform.”