By Natalie Rodgers
I first met Pamela Whitlam in July 2015 when I was asked by her solicitors, Switalskis, to handle the media coverage during the week-long Inquest into 11 year old Harry. Harry died on 9th August 2013 when he was struck by a reversing tractor on Swithens Farm in Rothwell, Leeds. Unusually, it was a Jury Inquest held in Leeds before the Assistant Deputy Coroner, Kevin McLoughlin (who, by coincidence, was my very first boss when I went into practice as a Solicitor).
The Jury returned a narrative verdict, and it was whilst I was writing the media release to be read to the awaiting press, that I was struck by the injustice and the absurdity of the situation in relation to drink-drive laws.
It was only during the Inquest that it came to light the extent to which the tractor driver, Gary Green was over the drink-drive limit. Up until that point, the family hadn’t been told. They were only aware that any criminal prosecution would have to be made by the Health and Safety Executive, rather than the CPS. Even then, they weren’t 100% sure whether Mr Green would face a prosecution at all.
I shared Pamela and her family’s outrage that the police had been powerless to do anything, and the appalling length of time that they were having to wait for justice for Harry. It was at that point I suggested to Pamela that she started a campaign to change the drink-drive laws so that that they applied to drivers of all vehicles, irrespective of where they were being driven. She was initially hesitant, believing that it was just not possible to do such a thing. But I explained what we would need to do, and how we could go about it…MP support, online petitions and, of course, PR. Fortunately, her legal team agreed to back and support the campaign.
Having the media outside court, waiting to hear the family’s post-Inquest statement was the perfect time to launch the campaign. So we did it…there and then… not really appreciating the journey that we were embarking upon.
Following the statement to the press, I prepared a campaign document – Whitlam’s Law – and further media releases for which we secured some coverage. However, without the support of an MP, it struggled to gain momentum. But Pamela and her lawyer, Amy Clowrey, from Switalskis Solicitors persisted, and eventually Alec Shelbrooke MP agreed to raise the topic in Parliament on 13th July 2017.
Here’ a link to the recent July 2017 PR coverage that we secured and co-ordinated for the campaign.
Here’s a link to TV coverage about the prison sentence that Gary Green eventually received in December 2016, which highlights the disparity in the law.
We’re absolutely delighted that Whitlam’s Law is one step closer to being realised and look forward to continuing to support Pamela, her family and Switalskis Solicitors.
The next step is for Pamela and her MP, Alec Shelbrooke, to meet with the Transport Minister, John Hayes who said during the debate: “I will consider how we might address this, including the possibility of future legislative reform.”