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.