Family whose lives have been “destroyed” by drink driver who killed Hales woman in crash have called for change in sentencing guidelines

Dawn Bartlett was killed after Matthew Ritchie's car crashed hea on into her Toyota Aygo. Photo: Supplied Dawn Bartlett was killed after Matthew Ritchie's car crashed hea on into her Toyota Aygo. Photo: Supplied

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
10:59 AM

A brother of a 61-year-old mother and grandmother who was killed by a drink driver have called on sentencing guidelines to be changed after he was jailed for four years - but will serve just half - despite “destroying” the lives of her heartbroken family.

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The family of Dawn Bartlett leave Norwich Crown Court after the sentencing of Matthew Ritchie for death by dangerous driving. Picture: Denise BradleyThe family of Dawn Bartlett leave Norwich Crown Court after the sentencing of Matthew Ritchie for death by dangerous driving. Picture: Denise Bradley

Matthew Ritchie was seen by other road users driving his Hyundai Santa Fe in the wrong lane of the A146 at Hales before crashing head on into a Toyota Aygo driven by Dawn Bartlett who was on her way home after finishing her shift at the Tesco store in Beccles where she worked as a general assistant.

Mrs Bartlett, 61, a widow of Beccles Road, Hales, who was “approaching retirement” was critically injured in the crash which happened at about 3.20am on Saturday, April 27 last year and died in hospital the next day.

Norwich Crown Court heard how the death of Mrs Bartlett, a mother of two and grandmother of one had “destroyed the lives” of her family, including her four brothers and three sisters, who have to pass the crash site regularly which was a continuing source of “grief”.

Ritchie, 38, of Morris Road, North Walsham, was sentenced to four years in prison yesterday after previously pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving.

The family of Dawn Bartlett leave Norwich Crown Court after the sentencing of Matthew Ritchie for death by dangerous driving. Dawn's brother, Chris Riseborough. Picture: Denise BradleyThe family of Dawn Bartlett leave Norwich Crown Court after the sentencing of Matthew Ritchie for death by dangerous driving. Dawn's brother, Chris Riseborough. Picture: Denise Bradley

Sentencing Ritchie, who will serve two years before being released on licence, Judge Nicholas Coleman said: “These cases are extremely difficult for all concerned. This is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy for the family who have lost a loved mother. No sentence I’m allowed to impose according to law will satisfy those who have lost a loved one.”

Speaking outside court Chris Riseborough, 59, from Aldeby, one of Mrs Bartlett’s brothers, called for a change on sentencing guidelines.

He said: “The guidelines need to be changed so people get justice for what they’ve done - two years in prison for someone’s life is disgusting.

“We just need change to help other victims as well as us. We’ve got a life sentence.”

Matthew Ritchie. Picture: Norfolk PoliceMatthew Ritchie. Picture: Norfolk Police

A spokesman for the Sentencing Council admitted these were “tricky” cases and said there was going to be a “review of the guidelines” in relation to serious driving offences which was likely to take place next year and which might lead to new guidelines.

The spokesman said the issue of defendants serving half their sentence before being released on licence was something that Parliament had decided and would need “political will” to change.

Robert Warner, prosecuting, said Ritchie had been drinking at a pub in Norwich on April 26 and called police to report his car missing at about 2.15am, but called back 10 minutes later to say he had located it and it wasn’t stolen. He then left the pub and at around 3.20am came up behind a van on the A146 travelling towards Beccles. The occupants of the van saw him driving erratically and in the wrong lane before overtaking and then driving into the Toyota.

When emergency services arrived at the scene, Ritchie claimed to have been having a conversation on his mobile phone and was trying to find the phone, which officers later found between the passenger seat and centre console in his Hyundai where it could not have fallen during the crash.

He was taken to hospital and blood tests showed he was over the drink drive limit and had 99 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood when he was three hours after the crash. The legal limit is 80.

An examination of Ritchie’s phone concluded that he was most likely using Blackberry Messenger at the time of the incident.

The court also heard Ritchie had 12 points on his licence for two offences of failing to notify police of the identity of a driver and had had his driving licence revoked in December 2012.

Ian James, mitigating for Ritchie, said he understood the “enormity” of his offending and had shown “genuine remorse”. He had pleaded guilty to the offence and understood that it would “cost him his liberty” but has two young children who will be affected by the sentence.

Ritchie was disqualified from driving for six years and told he must take an extended retest.

Two other counts, causing death by driving while over the limit and causing death by driving while unlicensed, were ordered to lie on file.

• FAMILY TRIBUTE

A statement released after the case by the family said: “No sentence passed can ever reflect the unnecessary loss of a beautiful mother.

“Our mother was innocently driving home from work that night when she was cruelly taken away from us all.

“We urge people to consider the consequences of drink driving and also for using a mobile phone while driving and to realise the utter destruction that their selfish act causes other people to suffer.

”Our heartfelt thanks go to the witnesses who stopped to help our mother along with all the emergency services involved that night.”

• NORFOLK POLICE REACTION TO DRINK DRIVER CASE

Steve Matthews of Norfolk’s Serious Collision Investigation Team said: “Ritchie should not have been behind the wheel of a car on the night of the collision; despite having lost his licence and drinking alcohol, he drove anyway.

“His use of a mobile phone whilst driving compounded his alcohol consumption, and his reckless actions have cost a family their mother and also caused lasting distress to the witnesses to the collision. I would like to extend my sympathies to Mrs Bartlett’s family at this difficult time.”

Head of the Norfolk and Suffolk Roads Policing Unit, Chief Inspector Chris Spinks, said: “This case starkly illustrates the dangers of drinking and driving and being distracted by a mobile phone.

“These are two priorities for the Norfolk and Suffolk Roads Policing Unit and officers carry out regular patrols to stop drivers and take action where necessary where drink driving and distraction are suspected, along with speeding and not wearing a seatbelt.”

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