Sheffield students ‘court’ out

10.04 | 13 October 2011 | | 3 comments

A group of Sheffield students experienced the trauma of a court case at Sheffield Magistrates Court following a road traffic collision.

18-year-old Michael Higgins was driving when he was passed his mobile phone by his girlfriend, and was distracted by two young children in the back of the car. As a result he ran a red light, was involved in a collision with a Ford Transit van and his girlfriend in the car passenger seat was killed instantly.

A distraught Higgins, who pleaded guilty and had no previous convictions, was charged with death by careless driving. He was led down to the cells to begin a six month sentence behind bars, saying goodbye to his tearful mother as he left the court.

But the students from Longley Park Sixth Form College had been fooled – the court hearing was an elaborate hoax, organised by the South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership.

Magistrates, police officers, court officials, prosecuting and defending solicitors all staged the trial as they would in a genuine case.

The 30 students attended the court thinking that they were going to view a real court case. What they actually saw was a staged trial with Chris Matthews, a theatre studies student from Norton College playing the part of the defendant.

Chris Matthews said: “The mock trial was set up to portray the importance of driving safely and paying attention to the road. From my point of view, playing the part of the defendant meant that all eyes were on me. The students really believed it was a real case and were shocked at how serious things can become if you lose concentration on the road for just a split second.”

Patrick Baker, one of the students, said: “I’ll soon be learning to drive and I really can’t imagine being in the position of the defendant. Having seen this mock case I will ask friends not to answer their phone when they’re driving. Once I’m driving I will not answer my phone illegally and will either keep it turned off or locked away in the boot.”

Joe Hockney, Sheffield Council RSO, said: “From the moment that the students walked into the court building, through the security checks and into the courtroom they felt it was a genuine court case. When they saw the defendant was the same age as them they gasped with shock.

“The key message from the day is that a driver should always pay attention to the road, being distracted for just a split second could have a devastating impact on the rest of your life.”

For more information contact Steve Betts, from South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership, on 07831 42 46 41.


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    Catharsis in theatre can be a powerful tool. The opening scenes in “Saving Private Ryan” that recreates the slaughter of young American soldiers on Omaha Beach, leaves one reaching for the pen to sign-up as an anti-war campaigner. The open-air theatre production of “The Life of Christ” showing Jesus, beaten nearly to death and with blood dripping from his face, forced to carry a heavy cross on which he was about to be nailed, would turn all but the most cemented atheist into Roman Catholics.

    I would not wish for any back office RSO to witness what I have seen as a front-line police motorcyclist. My catharsis was not theatrical, it was reality. If this initiative in Sheffield achieves the desired result without the undesired tragedy, then perhaps it should be embraced.

    It may be that Doug Harris sub-consciously found this theatre unpalatable hence his cynicism but I would remind him that we all have a “vested interest” in road safety. We don’t know who will be tomorrow’s victim.

    As an aside, may I also tell Doug that I have been in an A&E Department when a man was brought in dying of suffocation because his lungs, crippled by cigarette smoke, were about to fail completely. Is it any wonder I am a vehement anti-smoker?

    Roy Buchanan, Epsom
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    Fantastic! I would say it achieved what it was meant to, sounds like it shocked the students enough to think about not using their mobiles and also to take into account other distractions too.

    Linsey, South Yorkshire
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    This is completely over the top, yet another demonstration of the disproportionality of those whose vested interests lie in road safety. I am all for intelligent education but not for scare tactics. What next, staged patients coughing up blood in the doctor’s surgery waiting room to persuade people not to smoke? Feigned heart attacks in Macdonalds on Saturday afternoons to persuade folk to cut down on their cholesterol?

    Doug Harris
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