Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Judge's anger at having to free 'bored' teen who caused death of mother with hoax 999 call

A district judge today criticised sentencing powers which left him unable to jail a 17-year-old youth for making a hoax call to the fire service that led to a woman's death.

Nicola Stacy, 36, from Sheffield, died last month when her car was hit by a fire engine responding to an emergency call made by Ian Patterson 'for a laugh'.

Handing Patterson an anti-social behaviour order (Asbo) and a 12-month referral order, District Judge John Foster said the case was one of the worst he had seen and the defendant deserved to go to prison but could not because of his age.

Earlier this month, Patterson, of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty at Doncaster Youth Court to three counts of making false reports to South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service on June 26, June 27 and June 29.

Today, the court heard that the teenager made the third call from a mobile phone at 10.49pm and reported that a warehouse was on fire on Old Sheffield Road, Rotherham.

Two fire engines were sent to the reported fire and, while one arrived to discover it was a false alarm, the other was involved in the fatal collision as it was travelling to the warehouse.

Ms Stacy was declared dead at the scene of the accident and her 10-year-old daughter, who was a front-seat passenger, was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Sentencing Patterson, District Judge Foster said: 'Entirely, it seems to me, as a result of your actions, someone has lost their life and a young child has been seriously hurt. Very seriously hurt.'

He continued: 'What has frankly astonished me is the powers I have to deal with a case of this sort are so limited.

'Parliament has decreed that if you were 18 years of age you could be sent to prison but for a maximum of three months only. But you are not 18, you are 17.

'You richly deserve to lose your liberty in my view for a significant period of time but because you are 17 and because the maximum sentence an adult can receive is three months in prison, I cannot sentence you to custody.'

Commenting on Patterson's explanation to the police that he made the phone calls 'for a laugh' because he was bored, District Judge Foster said: 'I cannot think of a less apt reason being proffered by a defendant for committing an offence with the consequences this had.'

The judge said everyone, including Patterson, should realise the potential consequences of making hoax calls to the emergency services.

'They are responding to what they perceive to be an emergency, they are responding possibly to an incident where people's lives are at stake, and it's certainly the case that the consequences that flowed from your actions could have been foreseen and could have been foreseen by you,' he said.

The Asbo was imposed for three years and bans Patterson from behaving in a manner likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to any member of the public.

Speaking after the sentencing, Mark Shaw, area manager for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said they were disappointed a prison sentence was not an option.

He said: 'As the court heard today, without this call being made a serious road crash, involving death and life-threatening injuries, would not have occurred.'

Mr Shaw said that, although the force had reduced the number of hoax 999 calls made, they still received an average of two false reports each day.

'They make it harder to deal with real emergencies and can put lives in danger," he said.

'We also cannot forget the dangers posed to both emergency service staff and members of the public when responding to 999 calls.'

Mr Shaw warned anyone caught making hoax calls could be punished.

'Those who make hoax 999 calls can be identified and we will always seek to take action with the help of our partners at the police,' he said.


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