A JUDGE has been criticised by MPs and a road safety charity for not jailing a banned driver who led police on a dangerous chase across Bradford after they caught him on the phone behind the wheel.
Shipley MP Philip Davies slammed the sentence given to Sajid Hussain by Judge Colin Burn as “unacceptable”.
Bradford Crown Court heard that Hussain, 29, sped off when ordered to stop on Leeds Road at 4pm on January 14. Film footage from the pursuing police car shows him weaving in and out of traffic on the busy road and overtaking on a pedestrian crossing in a bid to escape.
Hussain, of Ashwell Road, Manningham, was illegally behind the wheel after being banned for 12 months for driving with excess alcohol two months earlier. At the latest hearing, he admitted dangerous driving, driving while using a hand-held phone, driving while disqualified and having no vehicle insurance. Hussain told police he was too scared to stop because he had taken a relative’s car without permission while banned and uninsured.
Judge Burn sentenced Hussain to three months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and said: “There are a great many serious accidents and deaths caused on the roads as a result of people who say they panicked when they saw a police car and tried to get away.”
The court also heard that Hussain could not have seen anyone entering the pedestrian crossing from the left hand side and it was a matter of sheer luck that no one was injured. Along with the suspended sentence, Hussain was banned from driving for 12 months, ordered to do 120 hours of unpaid work and to pay £100 in prosecution costs. He must also undergo a rehabilitation activity requirement with the probation service, that will include the Responsible Road User Group course.
On the sentence handed down to Hussain, Mr Davies said: “Clearly, for me, that is completely unacceptable. There are maybe rare cases that you could suspend a sentence, but this judge seems to use this as a matter of course. If a judge is not prepared to send people to prison then they should not be a judge. That is my view and I hope people will review what he does and maybe perhaps pursue him to actually apply the law as the public would want him to.”
Judith Cummins, MP for Bradford South, said: “I fully accept that it is the role of the judiciary to use their discretion in sentencing within the guidelines, after taking into account the full circumstances of each individual case. It is also right that sentences should reflect the severity of the crime.
“However, given the very high profile and the toll of dangerous driving in Bradford both I, and the public, are rightly concerned that sentencing should reflect the severity of the offence and above all ensure the safety of road users and pedestrians.”
Gary Rae, campaigns director for Brake, the road safety charity, said: “Over lenient sentences from this, or any other judge, do little to inspire confidence in the judicial system, especially for families who lost a loved one because of a criminal driver.
“A vehicle can be as lethal a weapon as a knife or a gun. That’s why we need the government and the courts to take these crimes much more seriously.”
Prosecutor, Duncan Ritchie said Hussain was caught using his phone while driving a white VW Golf he had taken without permission. He accelerated away down Leeds Road before turning off along Hubert Street, Gibson Street and Myrtle Street. He was apprehended when he drove into a dead end. Mr Ritchie told the court that in November last year, Hussain was fined and disqualified from driving for 12 months for driving over the prescribed alcohol limit.
Hussain’s barrister, Peter Yates, said his client was recently married and his wife was pregnant.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Sentencing decision are a matter for the independent judiciary, taking into account the full facts of each case.”
A spokesman for the Judicial Office said: “We cannot comment on individual cases but if people are unhappy about sentences which they believe to be unduly lenient, they are able to raise this with the Attorney General.”
The Recorder of Bradford, Judge Roger Thomas QC, declined to comment.