FIFTEEN years on from his son’s death in a drink driving car crash, a Luton Irishman has revealed the positive steps that have come out of the tragedy.
On Halloween weekend in 1998, former Dunstable publican Declan Duggan learned that his oldest son Kevin had been killed in a car crash.
“I heard the phone ringing in the middle of the night. Well, you automatically know it’s bad news,” he said. “But it couldn’t have been worse. Kevin had been involved in a fatal road crash and killed instantly.”
Kevin had been a front seat passenger in a car that was being driven by a drunk driver. Ironically, he was the only one of the three people in the car who was wearing a seat belt.
The driver, Paul Mason, had been knocked unconscious by the impact and so no blood sample was taken. But Declan’s grief turned to anger when told by police that there was no suspicion of drink-driving.
“My son was dead, the driver was drunk and still driving about Luton, the police weren’t doing anything about it. I was inconsolable, but I was also enraged,” he said.
The law as it stood then was that blood could only be taken if there was consent.
“A lot of people back then feigned unconsciousness to escape prosecution. It was a total nonsense, and I knew it had to stop. The situation was ridiculous,” Declan said.
Declan’s book In The Name of The Son — which features in the Luton Book Festival this week — is the story of how he managed not only to get justice for his son — Paul Mason was eventually sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for causing death by dangerous driving — but how he changed British law so that blood samples can be taken from an unconscious person.
MPs, lords, private detectives and friends all contributed to the task.
In the Name of The Son is a gripping account of how an Irish publican managed to stand up to the might of the police, the Freemasons and local authorities, and in doing so made British roads safer by expunging a very dangerous anomaly in the law.
For many years after the incident, Declan continued to be harassed by some members of the local police force and also the local authorities about his licensing regulations to such an extent that he was almost forced out of his own pub.
Anonymous phone calls, hate mail, and death threats also became part and parcel of his daily life.
But the story doesn’t end just with justice being done and a road safety campaign being successfully concluded.
There is another hugely positive aspect to the events of October 31, 1998.
One of Declan and Kevin’s shared passions was golf. Declan has devoted much of his time to opening a unique Golf Academy, including a nine-hole golf course and driving range bearing Kevin’s name in Stockwood Park.
“The academy is a place where underprivileged young players can shine — the ones who might otherwise be lost to the game,” he said.
And Declan continues to be active in the community. One of his current projects is trying to save the Luton Library Theatre. “I’ve been putting on gigs at the theatre to try to raise money. We’ve got a great night of traditional music on November 22.”
In The Name of The Son is published by Filament.