In the Media

Learner driver jailed over death of nine-year-old girl

PUBLISHED December 21, 2011

Two-year sentence for Beatrice Mawamba, who killed Shamirah Grant after losing control of car during her first driving lesson

A learner driver who crashed and killed a nine-year-old girl while on her first driving lesson has been jailed for two years.

Beatrice Mawamba, 34, panicked and careered down a narrow alleyway into a grassed courtyard while taking a lesson with her husband, Leeds crown court heard.

The court was told she crushed to death nine-year-old Shamirah Grant and injured two other girls, one seriously.

The court was told Mawamba had a provisional licence but had only done online theory lessons and had not driven a car before.

Michael Smith, prosecuting, said: "The children describe playing in the early evening and saw a man and woman in a green Vauxhall car. The man was giving some sort of instruction to the woman. The children heard the engine revving and saw it stutter and come flying down towards them fast."

The vehicle was earlier described as "bunny hopping" before Mawamba lost control and veered dangerously out of control, down the steps of a narrow alleyway and on to the grassed children's play area near Leopold Grove in the Chapeltown area of Leeds.

"The defendant described the car going very fast and her husband telling her to brake but she did not know how to. Her husband also tried to stop the car but couldn't.When challenged by the police she was unable to say which pedal was the brake," Smith added.

The court heard she was not travelling at speed during the incident and had only managed to get into first gear.

Sentencing, Mr Justice Openshaw said Mawamba was "profoundly ignorant" of the most basic driving skills.

He added: "It seems to me she was unaware of putting the car in gear. Having done so she was unable to disengage first gear. She did not know how to apply the brake pedal; she could not find the brake pedal; she did not know where it was or what purpose it served."

The judge said setting off driving when "so lacking the most basic driving skills" amounted to a "thoughtless disregard for the safety of others".

He said: "In my judgment a prison sentence is necessary to impress upon others that driving a car without having any idea how to control it is seriously antisocial and presents a substantial risk to the public, and such behaviour must strongly be discouraged."

Mawamba, a mother-of-three from Chapeltown, admitted causing death by dangerous driving in May this year.

She was banned from driving for five years and must take an extended test when her ban ends.

Graham Parkin, for Mawamba, said his client was remorseful and remained "extremely distressed" by the tragedy. "She wishes, of course, she could turn back the clock and that it never happened," he added.

The victim's parents, Gary and Jennifer Grant, issued a statement following Wednesday's sentencing.

The statement said: "As the parents of Shamirah Grant, we have forgiven those present in the vehicle which veered dangerously out of control from the car park down the steps of a narrow pedestrianised walkway into a grassed children's play area, unfortunately killing our daughter and injuring two of her friends.

"We appreciate that such a terrible event was not intentional. We have not sought to influence the sentencing of the court in any way and accept that the driver is sincerely remorseful, being a mother of three herself.

"Nevertheless, Shamirah's death has left a heart-rending gap within our family's lives and, in a lasting legacy to her name, we intend to go forward positively by creating opportunities which will use performing arts, which was Shamirah's passion, to empower young people educationally, and hopefully make a change in their lives.

"Since Shamirah's passing we have adopted the symbol of the butterfly which metamorphoses from a caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly, whose life, although short-lived, graces a summer's day with her beautiful elegance.

"So it's hoped that through the spirit of our beautiful but short-lived daughter, we too can bring change for the better." © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds