Judge attacks 'ridiculous' law after hit and run driver who paralysed student is jailed for just two years

Graham Phillips

Graham Phillips was mown down by a hit and run driver

A  judge has spoken of his frustration after an uninsured hit and run driver who left his student victim 'trapped inside a body that simply doesn't function' faces just a two-year maximum jail term.

Judge Christopher Metcalf joined the parents of victim Graham Phillips in condemning the maximum penalty set by Parliament for dangerous driving and told a court it was 'woefully inadequate'.

The judge was presiding over the case of 22-year-old Rajesh Khunti, who admitted mowing down the Leicester University student at the city's crown court on what was to be the first day of his  trial.

The court heard Khunti - who has a previous conviction for the same offence - had been swerving across the road at around 40mph, moments before hitting the student in a 30mph zone.

The driver failed to stop but was arrested the next day after his car was found abandoned on a roundabout close to Leicester Racecourse.

Mr Phillips, 21, a keen sportsman before the incident in September 2007, was left fighting for his life and now bedridden.

He has a pump in his brain to keep his circulation going and is unable to talk or move properly unaided.

Judge Metcalf told the court on Monday that dangerous driving carried a 'ridiculous level of sentence.'

He added: 'One can't help feeling sorry for the family of this boy, wondering what on earth the system is that allows this to happen.'

Khunti's guilty plea marked the first time he had admitted being the driver.  

He also admitted failing to stop after an accident and having no insurance. The case was not opened and the defendant was remanded in custody until he is sentenced in March.

In 2007, a new offence of causing death by careless driving was introduced to plug the gap between the offences of careless driving, which did not carry a jail deterrent, and causing death by dangerous driving, which has a maximum sentence of 14 years.

The new offence has a maximum penalty of five years, but because Khunti was charged with dangerous driving, he faces only a maximum penalty of two years in prison when he is sentenced.

Today, Mr Phillips' parents - Roy and Donna, from Weybridge, Surrey - said such a sentence would be an insult to their son, and called for a fresh overhaul of sentencing powers in driving cases to correct the anomaly.

Mr Phillips, 59, said: 'My son is going to be permanently disabled and will be lucky if he talks again.

'A maximum sentence of two years, for someone who didn't even have the decency to stop after running him over, makes me sick to my stomach.

'The law urgently needs to be changed to reflect the seriousness of the crime, otherwise there'll be no justice for other families in this situation.

'It's no deterrent. A harsher punishment might make people think twice.

'If Graham hadn't survived, and he very nearly didn't, it would have been a maximum of 14 years for causing death by dangerous driving.'

The incident has torn the family apart. After many months of hospital treatment in the UK, Mrs Phillips, who is American, took her son to Austin, Texas, for specialist treatment, where she is now looking after him with help from relatives and a carer.

He is making some progress and now starting to use a communication device and can give the thumbs up to signal OK.

He has to be fed by a tube in his stomach, although manages some liquids, but needs round the clock attention.

Mrs Phillips, 54, said: 'We were so focused on Graham's recovery, it's taken every last drop of our energy, that we didn't even think about the offender until now.

'However, I never dreamed the penalty he faced would be so small. A similar case in America resulted in a 30-year jail sentence.'

Mr Phillips, who works for a major oil and gas company, is London-based but regularly flies out to be at his son's bedside.

Their son had studied mechanical engineering and had been returning to his digs after withdrawing money from a cashpoint with a friend when he was hit.

Prosecutor Jeremy Janes(corr) told the court the car had been seen swerving and was 'driven dangerously, sweeping up cars and a pedestrian in its' wake'.

He said Mr Phillips was 'trapped in a body that simply doesn't function' and agreed the two-year maximum penalty Khunti faces was 'thoroughly unsatisfactory.'

Road safety charity Brake has been lobbying for an overhaul of the death by dangerous driving legislation to include a provision for causing serious injury by dangerous driving - as is the case in Northern Ireland - to adequately reflect the serious consequences of offences such as the one committed by Khunti.

A spokesman said: 'Causing death by dangerous driving carries a 14-year maximum penalty. There is a massive gap between this and the two years for dangerous driving and that doesn't seem right.'

Ministers have previously signalled support for an increase in the maximum sentence for dangerous driving, but have been accused of stalling over new legislation by the Tories.

Last year, Gareth and Tracy Edwards, whose 11-month-old daughter Cerys was left brain damaged by a speeding motorist, called for the maximum sentence to be raised from two to 10 years. 

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