Earlier this year, a criminal defense barrister in England made an application to the sentencing judge on behalf of his client, a man who was guilty of killing four-year-old Violet-Grace Youens and of causing severe injuries to her grandmother in a hit-and-run.
The lawyer persuaded the Court that his client would find the contents of the victim impact statement “too upsetting” so it should not be read out in full.
His application, unbelievably, was successful and the statement was edited. Rebecca and Glenn Youens, the loss parents of Violet-Grace, were then obliged to read out the revised text, skipping highlighted sections so as not to distress their little girl’s killer.
You don’t need to be a homicide-loss parent to see how utterly unjust this is.
It’s downright wrong that loss parents should be stopped from speaking freely in open Court because they have to spare the feelings of the person who killed their child.
For the avoidance of doubt, what Rebecca and Glenn were not allowed to describe were the extent of Violet-Grace’s horrific injuries and what her last moments alive were like.
She died in her mother’s arms in a hospital bed as life support was switched off, with tubes everywhere that made it hard for her mom to lie next to her.
Her organs were donated to save two other children’s lives.
In what way is that not appropriate material for a Court to consider before Sentencing?
What Is An Impact Statement?
Impact Statements allow crime victims to explain, in their own words, how a crime has affected them emotionally, physically and financially. They’re generally included in the pre-sentencing report which is presented to the judge at Court.
Depending on the jurisdiction, victims are allowed to read out their statements in open Court; sometimes, a written copy is what’s allowed or will suffice if the victim feels unable to speak publicly.
Most often, impact statements will be the only opportunity a victim has of participating in the legal process.
It’s a vitally important aspect of the judicial process from the co-victims’ point of view – we get to speak our truth and in doing so, a small nugget-sized feeling of ‘justice’ can be achieved.
A defendant can challenge the facts in an impact statement, but that’s it.
Or so I thought until I read about what happened Violet-Grace’s parents. Seemingly, they are not the only ones who’ve had this experience.
Whilst researching this subject, I found two more reported cases in England, and also a number in New Zealand and Australia where parents of murder victims had their statements censored.
Does anyone in a Court of Law have even the vaguest idea of how damned hard it is to write one of these things as a loss parent? That at your most vulnerable, you face the person who took your child’s life and describe your pain?
Why would anyone re-traumatize themselves at a public hearing with the media and the killer only feet away?
The answer is simple. It’s because we so desperately need to see justice being done.
The whole point of impact statements is that they allow the victims and the co-survivors to describe how the crime has affected their lives. It’s definitely not about the defendant.
To have an impact statement edited is a slap in the face to the victims. It’s like telling us that our suffering is not important, that our right to speak is a token gesture.
Homicide-loss survivors help each other in writing these statements, it’s THAT hard. Faced with a blank sheet of paper, where do you even start to explain how your life has been destroyed?
Personally, I found it so difficult that it took me almost half a year to put something together that made grammatical sense. I ended up also giving the judge a DVD of my son’s photos from birth to his 23rd year because I simply couldn’t adequately describe what it was like to lose my beautiful boy to murder.
Facts of Violet-Grace’s Case
In March 2017, little four-year-old Violet-Grace was walking home from preschool when she and her grandmother were mown down by a speeding car which mounted the pavement. The driver was going at 83 m.p.h (133 km.p.h) in a 30 m.p.h (48 km.p.h) zone.
The car was stolen and the driver had no driver’s license or insurance, he’d run two red lights and had fitted false number plates on the car.
Violet-Grace sustained horrific injuries and later died in hospital; her grandmother suffered life-changing injuries and is now looked after by her husband who had to give up his job as a university lecturer to take care of his wife.
The driver of the car had previous convictions. He and his passenger fled the scene, stepping over dying Violet-Grace as they made their escape.
The killer then traveled to Amsterdam, and later Alicante, in an attempt to avoid justice.
Two years after Violet-Grace died, the killer pleaded guilty to dangerous driving which in England and Wales currently carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.
Importance of Speaking Our Truth as Loss Parents
As a bereaved parent, one of the most meaningful things we can do following the loss of our child is to speak our truth, to talk about what’s happened and to share our feelings with others.
This is particularly important when our child has been killed at the hands of another and when we know that what we say may influence the jail term imposed.
Violet-Grace’s parents have launched an online petition to increase the maximum jail time for dangerous driving from 14 years to life imprisonment. This would give judges in England and Wales the option of imposing tougher sentences if they deemed it just to do so.
In their daughter’s case, the killer was jailed for nine years and four months but with good behavior and parole, he will serve less time than Violet-Grace was alive.
The Youens also want impact statements to be heard by default. Their Member of Parliament, Ms. Rimmer, has taken up their cause and the matter was debated at Westminster Hall on 8th July 2019.
Ms. Rimmer said, “Guidance should be given to the judiciary that the overriding consideration is for the victim and their family, not whether the impact statement may upset the defendant.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Further Information for Victims of Crime
If you or someone you know has been the victim of a crime, please direct them to seek advice regarding their rights:
United Kingdom — Victim Support
USA — National Center for Victims of Crime and US Department of Justice
Australia — Victim Support Services
Canada — Victims Of Crime
Published on Still Standing Magazine 23.07.2019