Suspended sentence for driver after deaths of sisters

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A woman whose car crashed into a ditch, killing two Sutton Bridge sisters, was given a suspended jail sentence yesterday (Friday).

Marie Easter (44) was sentenced to 15 months in prison, suspended for two years, at Norwich Crown Court.

She had pleaded guilty to two charges of causing death by careless driving at an earlier hearing, having previously denied the allegations.

She was also banned from driving for four years and told she would have to take an extended re-test.

Passing sentence, Judge Mark Lucraft QC said he had taken the impact of the incident upon her into account.

But he added: “Two young girls who you described as beautiful and full of life were killed and no sentence I pass can undo what was done.”

The judge also read an extract of a letter Easter had written to him, in which she said: “I loved those girls like they were my own and I will never forgive myself.”

Easter, of Herbert Ward Way, Terrington St Clement, had been driving a Ford Focus when the accident happened on the A47 at Walsoken, near Wisbech, on the evening of December 27, 2012.

The court heard that Easter, her partner Allan Portor and three of his children had been on their way to the cinema in Peterborough when the crash happened.

The two sisters, ten-year-old Tamzin and seven-year-old Jessica, both died. Their 12-year-old brother Liam suffered minor injuries.

Witnesses described seeing the Focus turn sharply before leaving the road and crashing into a ditch. The vehicle eventually came to rest in an adjacent field against a gate.

Lindsay Cox, prosecuting, said Easter had told police she swerved to avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming car. However, other drivers in the area at the time said there was no other vehicle that would have caused her to take avoiding action.

He said the reason why Easter had made the manouvere would never be known.

The court was also told that Jessica had not been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, while two of the car’s tyres were defective and all of them had been inflated unevenly, which investigators said would have been a factor in the crash.

Neil Guest, mitigating, said his client remained convinced there was another car heading towards her at the time of the crash, but she accepted she may have been mistaken.

He said Easter, who had been driving since the late 1990s with only two minor offences on her record, had made a “fatal misjudgement” which had left her “a broken woman”. He added that it was unlikely she would drive again.

Speaking after the sentence was passed, Steve Matthews, of the Norfolk Police Serious Collision Investigation Team, said it was a “terribly sad” case which served as a reminder to all drivers of the importance of properly maintaining a vehicle.

He said: “What began as a festive treat turned into a tragedy due to the careless driving of Easter.

Other factors may have contributed to the severity of the collision, but ultimately Easter’s driving was substandard and caused the sisters’ deaths. I extend my sympathies to their families and friends as they begin another year without Tamzin and Jessica.

“Easter’s poor driving may well have been exacerbated by her poorly maintained vehicle. It is vital that tyres are checked regularly for both pressure and tread, as well as carrying out other basic maintenance like topping up washers and getting windscreen chips repaired.

“What may seem a minor fault with your vehicle could have far more serious consequences and put you and other road users in danger.

He added: “Whilst we cannot definitively say that Jessica was not wearing her seatbelt, it showed no signs of having been worn in the collision. It is the responsibility of all drivers to ensure that any children in their vehicle are wearing their seatbelts.

“Their use cannot be emphasized enough – put quite simply, they save lives and should be put on as soon anyone gets into a vehicle.”