Bereaved dad on road safety crusade

From left: Actor Kevin Whately, author Declan Duggan, former Herald&Post journalist Gill Harris and Lord Bill McKenzie at the launch of In the Name of the Son
From left: Actor Kevin Whately, author Declan Duggan, former Herald&Post journalist Gill Harris and Lord Bill McKenzie at the launch of In the Name of the Son

If former Dunstable publican Declan Duggan could turn back time, his beloved son Kevin would still be alive.

And he would never have written In the Name of the Son, the true story of his fight for justice after the 19-year-old was killed by a drunk driver.

“This is the book no father should have to write,” he said at last week’s launch, held in the House of Lords with Lord Bill McKenzie and David Blunkett MP, who both wrote forewords, in attendance.

PGA chief executive Sandy Jones and actor Kevin Whately were among family, friends and supporters who packed into committee room G to hear Declan’s moving account of how he came to put pen to paper.

The illustrated paperback details how the father-of-six took on the British legal system and won - with a little help from journalist Gill Harris, who was with our sister paper, the Herald&Post, at the time.

Duggan’s Law, enacted in 2002 and soon to be adopted by the Irish government, enables blood samples to be taken from unconscious drug or drink-drive suspects.

Gill said: “When I met Declan he was, understandably, still in the depths of grief over Kevin.

“But on top of that grief was a determination that something good should come out of such a horrible tragedy.

“His passion and belief never wavered and anyone who knows Declan is aware he’s one of those people who makes things happen and inspires others to get on board.

“It was a privilege to be able to put the power of the Press – to nag, pester and question – to good use.

“This is what local papers are for – to serve their community.”

Declan, who suffers from a rare condition called bilateral vestibular dysfunction (loss of balance in both inner ears) is now calling for a full review of road deaths.

The popular White Swan landlord said: “My immediate goal is to lobby ministers in the Judiciary, Home Office and Transport.

“We’d like them to look at the initial investigation after a road death, how the Crown Prosecution collates information and how people are sentenced.”

Declan is also campaigning to bring road safety into the classroom.

He’s full of admiration for driving instructor Les Stonnell of Roadskills who would like to see a fire officer, policeman and paramedic re-enact road crashes for impressionable 15 and 16-year-olds.

Declan explained: “It’s for the benefit of learner drivers so before they get behind the wheel, they can see what happens when someone drives irresponsibly.”

He added: “Victims are treated like second class citizens.

“But as a rule, anyone can get drunk, get in a car, mount the pavement and kill or seriously injure someone.

“They’re generally released on unconditional bail, drive off and carry on as if nothing has happened.

“When the case comes to court, it’s usually a few points on their licence or a small fine.”

Declan said writing the book had been very difficult: “It took me back to the very day it happened and how I felt. There were several occasions when I had to stop.

“But the results that stemmed from it were all positive – the successful conviction, the golf academy I set up in Kevin’s name, the change in the law.”

Although he lost his pub two years ago, Declan is feeling “very optimistic” about the future. “I’m descended from a strong Irish family who survived the potato famine. They keep me alive and upright,” he said.

He’s also in talks about turning the book into a film: “That will send the message even further, to a wider audience.”

And he gets comfort from communicating with his son.

“I talk to him all the time . . . usually when I’m in a bit of trouble on the golf course,” he smiled.

> In the Name of the Son by Declan Duggan (Filament Publishing) costs £12.