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Drivers who raced on A367 jailed for causing fatal collision

Custody image of Daniel Leonard and Mark Howell.

Two drivers who caused a fatal collision by racing on the A367 near Bath have been jailed for a combined total of 16 years.

The men were in separate cars racing side-by-side into a sharp bend on Dunkerton Hill at about 10.45am on Wednesday 3 March 2021.

One of the vehicles collided head-on with a VW Polo car coming in the opposite direction being driven by 64-year-old Heather Church. Heather suffered significant head injuries and sadly died at the scene.

At Bristol Crown Court today (Friday 24 November), two men were sentenced for an offence of causing death by dangerous driving. Daniel Leonard, 29, of no fixed address, (pictured above left), was given a 15-year sentence, made up of 11 years in prison and an additional four years on licence, while 32-year-old Mark Howell, of Bloomfield in Bath, (pictured above right), was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison.

In addition, Leonard will be banned from driving for 10 years following his release from prison, and Howell will be banned for five years on release. Both will have to take an extended re-test.

The court heard how Leonard was driving an orange Ford ST, while Howell was driving a BMW M5. Both vehicles overtook a bus before racing side-by-side into the bend.

A forensic collision investigator estimated Leonard was driving at 79mph in the moments before he struck the VW Polo, causing it to rotate and propel backwards into hedging. The legal limit was 50pmh.

The engine and gearbox of the Ford ST were detached from the vehicle due to the impact of the collision.

The BMW did not stop at the scene, but officers stopped the car the same evening in Downside Road, near Bristol Airport, and arrested Howell.

In court, Judge Patrick said no sentence could “right the wrong” in this case, describing the aftermath of the collision as “a horror scene”.

Following today’s hearing, the family of Heather Church have released this statement:

“As a family we have been utterly devastated by the loss of Heather. We would like to thank the members of the public who attended the collision to offer help, as well as our deepest thanks to all the emergency services personnel who attended and did their best at the scene, as well as to those who have investigated this incident which has resulted in these convictions.”

Collision investigator Dai Nicholas said: “We carried out a significant investigation into this collision, gathering and examining all available camera footage, speaking to eyewitnesses and carrying out detailed forensic enquiries.

“Witnesses we spoke to described the actions of Leonard and Howell as completely reckless and their decision to race has cost an innocent person their life.

“Our thoughts are very much with the family of Heather Church and we hope the fact those who caused the collision have been brought to justice will bring them some comfort.

“We’d like to publicly thank all the people who came forward to provide statements and evidence in this case, which has helped us achieve justice for Heather’s family.

“The defendants’ decision to drive in such a dangerous and selfish manner is hard to fathom. I hope this tragic case will discourage others from ignoring the road safety measures in place to keep us all safe; a failure to do so can have catastrophic consequences, as it has done in this case.”