Family of grandmother fight to increase driver’s sentence
- Jean Watmore, 79, was killed while travelling after holiday in St Ives, Cornwall
- Former soldier Joseph Smith, 30, ploughed into her family’s car in 40-ton truck
- He had been using his phone in the hours before to text and browse web pages
- Smith was jailed for 32 months but this will now be reviewed at Court of Appeal
Jean Watmore, 79, pictured with her daughter Jeanette, was a back seat passenger when a driver ploughed into them in a 40-ton truck
The devastated family of a great-great-grandmother killed by a texting truck driver have been given hope after the Court of Appeal said it would review his ‘insulting and lenient’ jail sentence.
Jean Watmore, 79, was a back seat passenger in a Vauxhall Meriva car, driven by her daughter, travelling home to Bristol after a family holiday in St Ives, Cornwall, when Joseph David Smith, 30, ploughed into them in a 40-ton truck.
The car carrying Mrs Watmore was stationary in a jam on the A30 near Bodmin when ex-soldier Smith crashed into it at 43mph, while tuning his radio.
He had been using his mobile phone in the hours leading up to the accident to text and browse web pages.
Smith, of Gillingham, Kent, was jailed for 32 months and banned from driving for five years, after admitting causing Mrs Watmore’s death by dangerous driving, at Truro Crown Court in February.
But Mrs Watmore’s daughter, Sue West, 59, of Bristol, described the sentence as an ‘insult’ to her mother’s memory and wrote to the Attorney General, in March appealing for it to be increased.
The case was referred to the Court of Appeal in London under the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme and will be heard on May 9.
Mrs Watmore, pictured (centre) with her daughter Sue (left), son-in-law Les (back) and granddaughter Angela (right), was killed on the A30 near Bodmin, Cornwall, last year
‘I know the prosecution accepted he had been tuning the radio at the time of the crash. But as far as I am concerned, as soon as he started using his phone when driving, he wasn’t concentrating,’ Mrs West, a taxi call handler, said.
‘When Smith lifted that phone up, our world collapsed. I hate him and will never forgive what he has done and taken away from us. ‘Mum’s memory deserves more than that, so I’ll use all the fight I have left to make sure she is never forgotten.’
Mrs West, her retired taxi driver husband, Les, 69, and Mrs Watmore – who had 19 grandchildren, 26 great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren – were returning from a week’s holiday in St Ives, in May last year when the tragic smash happened.
‘Mum had just spent three months in Bristol’s Southmead Hospital, after having a stroke and a heart attack,’ Mrs West, mother to Angie, 40, Lee, 32, Mark, 28, explained.
The car carrying Mrs Watmore (left) was stationary, in a jam on the A30 near Bodmin when ex-soldier Joseph David Smith (right) crashed into it at 43mph, while tuning his radio
‘She had just turned 79, too, so Les and I decided to take her away as a last minute treat, so we booked a holiday lodge in Cornwall, which she loved.’
After five relaxed days, during which they visited Newquay, Land’s End and the Lost Gardens of Heligan, the trio headed back to Bristol on May 27, 2016.
Mrs West was discharged from hospital after the crash with severe bruising to her legs
‘Les and I sat up front, with Mum in the back, as we headed down the A30,’ Mrs West, who was driving, recalled.
‘Roadworks meant there was some congestion ahead at Bodmin, so I slowed down, flashing my hazards, before coming to a stop.
‘But then, checking my rear-view mirror, I saw a lorry hurtling down the road behind and I shouted to Les, “he’s not going to stop!”‘
Then the lorry smashed into Mrs West’s car, shunting it into the central reservation, before it hit the van in front, sending it flying into the air.
Mrs West looked to her left and saw her husband keeled over, clutching his shoulder.
The airbags had not activated.
Then, when she turned around to look into the back seat, she saw that her mother was not moving.
‘I felt a searing pain in my legs and Les was clearly suffering,’ she recalled.
‘I said, “Mum, are you OK?” but she didn’t reply. The car was suddenly surrounded by people, telling us the emergency services had been called and that we were going to be OK, but I was terrified for my mum.’
Mrs West tried to reassure her mother – whose first husband, Reg, died seven years ago and whose second husband, Ron Watmore, died in 2013, – but she remained silent.
Mrs Watmore holds her great-great-granddaughter Isla, (then back row from left) with Isla’s mother and Mrs Watmore’s granddaughter Crystal, Mrs West and Mrs West’s daughter Angela
When the ambulance crews arrived, she told them her elderly mother was in the back and needed help urgently.
‘The fire brigade cut us out of the car, saying they needed to get me and Les to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, fast.
Mrs West with her mother on holiday, enjoying the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, just days before Mrs Watmore died
‘I asked, “Is Mum dead?” The paramedic’s face told me she was, and my heart broke. I couldn’t understand how it had happened.’
Mr West was airlifted to hospital with severe injuries – seven broken ribs, lacerations to the back of his head and a dislocated shoulder – while Mrs West was taken in an ambulance, by road.
Once there, Mrs West asked someone to call her cleaning boss daughter Angie, before police confirmed that Mrs Watmore had died.
Family travelled to the hospital and when Mrs West was discharged that night, with severe bruising to her legs, kindly hospital staff found them somewhere to stay nearby, while her husband’s injuries were treated.
The next day, police told Mrs West a man had been arrested and later charged with causing Mrs Watmore’s death by dangerous driving.
Mrs West said: ‘Fury raged inside me, but we had to carry on.
We organised Mum’s funeral, a sombre affair, and it was held at Canford Cemetery, Bristol, on June 28, just for close relatives.
‘She’d been snatched away from us, leaving us in no mood to celebrate her life.’
Taxi call handler Mrs West and her retired taxi driver husband Mr West in Weymouth, Dorset
Then, in February this year, Smith appeared in court, where it was revealed that he had used the internet on his phone earlier that morning, while driving and had viewed a gambling website, as well as doing Google searches and accessing a PayPal account.
Mr West with Mrs Watmore on holiday in Cornwall, pictured just days before she died
He had also sent two emails, one text message and five other messages – including one 43 seconds before the crash, talking about booking a holiday to Prague.
His defence barrister said Smith was ‘deep in remorse’ and accepted he was using a mobile phone while driving that day.
But he still maintained that he was attempting to tune the radio station at the time of the crash, which the prosecution accepted.
Sue said: ‘Whatever happened, he should have had his eyes on the road.
‘Being jailed for 32 months and banned from driving for five years is a lenient sentence and a total an insult to Mum’s memory.
‘I wrote to the Attorney General, about that sentence, and really hope the Court of Appeal increase the number of years he is in jail for. When he lifted that phone up, our world collapsed.’
The case was referred to the Court of Appeal under the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme, after Mrs West wrote to the Attorney General’s office, and will be heard next month.
The crash caused huge queues on the A30 near Bodmin after it happened in May last year
The Court of Appeal can decide if the sentence should stay the same or is unreasonably low, in which case they may increase it.
In 2015, the Attorney General’s office received 713 requests for sentences to be reviewed under the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme.
Of those, 136 were referred to the Court of Appeal as too soft and the court agreed to increase the original sentence for 102 offenders.
‘Smith should have had his eyes on the road and I really hope the sentence will be increased,’ Mrs West added.
‘He has ruined our lives and he should have known better, so he should be made an example of. All I want is justice for Mum.
She always said never stop fighting, and we won’t do that.’