Peter Walsh, Crime correspondent
Friday, December 21, 2012
Christmas 2012 will be Sally Walker’s second without her beloved daughter.
Claire McKeown was a a rising star in Liverpool’s creative arts scene until she had her life taken from her, aged just 32, while visiting Norfolk to celebrate a friend’s wedding in July last year. Claire was one of four people in a Skoda Fabia car which had stopped at South Lopham, near Diss, at about 9.45pm on July 1 waiting to make a turn.
Unknown to Claire, a total stranger – unemployed Amanda Brierley – had got into her silver BMW seven at the White Hart pub in Roydon, having drunk two bottles of wine, to drive to her home at South Lopham.
Brierley, almost knocked a pub worker off his bicycle as she drove off, forgot to turn on her lights and almost hit the back of another car.
One kilometre into her journey, with her lights now on, Brierley, who had two previous convictions for drink driving, ploughed into the back of the car containing Claire who was a front seat passenger.
She died from her injuries the next day. Two of the others in the car were seriously hurt.
In December last year Brierley was jailed for eight years after admitting causing death by dangerous driving.
Claire’s mother was one of 15 family and friends who travelled from across the country to see the woman who killed their loved one sentenced.
Mrs Walker, a former nurse at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, who now lives in Yorkshire with her husband Martin, said: “It’s our second Christmas without Claire and we just miss her terribly.
“I know most of her friends and they know us and this time of year it’s very hard for us – it’s obvious she’s not here. She was beautiful and she was clever – I’m not saying it because I’m her mother – she had everything to look forward to and she’s gone.”
The pain of losing Claire is something Mrs Walker and the rest of her family carry with them every day and it is with that desperate sense of loss that she makes one plea to others this Christmas.
She said: “The one thing I would say is just don’t drink and drive. It’s as simple as that really. If you do, then something like the accident that happened to Claire could happen to you or you could cause it.
“You can’t really begin to imagine... You can’t make people do things if they are going to do things, but what they don’t realise is that if they do drink and drive and if an accident happens and someone is seriously injured or dies, then you have to live with that for the rest of your life and sadly so do the families of the people that have been lost.”
But as well as trying to reach out to those who might be tempted to drink and drive themselves this Christmas, Mrs Walker said it was also important people like landlords or friends intervened if they suspected or knew individuals planning to drink and drive. While Claire’s family is facing up to a second Christmas without her, there are at least others who have been given the chance of life following her death.
The businesswoman, who worked for Liverpool creative agency River Motion and who was the city’s star at the World Expo in Shanghai, had carried an organ donation card since 17 and has helped save at least four people including a 55-year-old man who was given part of her intestine.
In a statement released following last December’s court case – which also reiterated the importance of not drinking and driving – the family spoke of how they had gained comfort from the fact that Claire had managed to help others following her death.
It said: “Claire was a gifted and talented young woman, a caring, lovely person with a bright future. She was truly a rising star in her field.
“We are pleased the sentence of eight years imprisonment was imposed, although this will not bring her back.
“We hope this will deter others who may drink and drive and prevent other families suffering as we have.
“We also ask that others consider becoming organ donors as Claire was. We take some comfort that other lives have benefited as a result of this.”
Liverpool City Council has launched an annual Claire McKeown Award to recognise the talents of a young person from the city’s digital and creative sector.