On Christmas Day 2021, families across the UK woke to presents and fairy lights with their loved ones popping the prosecco.
But Debbie Clack’s day was spent living every mother’s worst nightmare as she anxiously waited at the hospital bedside of her daughter Lillie. The 21-year-old had suffered horrific injuries in a car accident during the early hours of the morning.
Lillie, one of his passengers, died three days later. Her family were left devastated. Despite being caught at the scene, and multiple witnesses recognising him as the driver, it would take a whole year for Hilton to be charged with causing death by dangerous driving.
As Lillie’s friends attended her funeral and decorated her grave, Hilton was allowed to continue driving, and was even able to enjoy two holidays to Ibiza and a luxury trip to Dubai.
Now, Lillie’s family are petitioning for a new law, known as Lillie’s law, to ensure that dangerous drivers have their licence suspended immediately after a fatal crash rather than at the point of their conviction.
“It’s disgraceful that he was arranging holidays and driving from the minute he left hospital, before Lillie had even been laid to rest,” Ms Clack told The Independent. “We started this petition because we couldn’t believe this was the law. You can kill using a car, but you’re still allowed to drive straight afterwards.”
Hilton had been drinking at a pub in Morden, south London, when he offered Lillie, her boyfriend and her friends a lift home on Christmas Eve. He was a distant acquaintance, and they were unaware that he had a history of driving convictions and was under the influence of alcohol.
A police car spotted him driving erratically, and despite Lillie’s pleas for him to pull over, he continued at speeds between 70mph and 100mph through residential streets in Carshalton.
His car eventually crashed into a tree, and local residents used fire extinguishers to tackle the blaze that followed.
While Lillie died on 28 December 2021, her boyfriend and friend suffered life-changing injuries, and Hilton was treated for a leg injury. He later answered “No comment” during police interviews, and was not charged until the following December.
“We all knew he was the one driving, and yet when he was released from hospital, he was back behind the wheel within no time at all and was posting on social media,” Ms Clack said.
Hilton eventually appeared in the dock at Croydon Magistrates’ Court in January 2023, and his driving licence was suspended. He pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, three counts of causing serious injury, failing to stop when directed, and driving above the alcohol limit, and was jailed at the Old Bailey for 10 years and six months.
This means it is likely he will be released in just six years, and has only been disqualified from driving for five years following his release.
“Drink drivers that kill on our roads should be given life in prison,” Ms Clack said. “I started my life sentence the day Lillie was killed, and it won’t end until we’re reunited.”
In June 2022, the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving increased from 14 years to life imprisonment, however this has rarely been enforced in the last 14 months.
RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims, has persistently called for tougher sentencing and for faster suspension of driving licences.
“It is completely unacceptable,” said Rebecca Morris, head of RoadPeace communications. “If you’ve been behind the wheel and there is evidence you were responsible for a death on the road, there is no way you should be able to get back into the front seat until sentencing.”
“What’s even more sickening for families is that, not only have their loved ones been killed through reckless behaviour, those individuals are still allowed to drive and carry on. The whole system is broken.”
Alongside three other families, Ms Clack is joining RoadPeace to support their new campaign, titled Fix Our Broken Justice System, which is due to launch on Monday.
Since her daughter’s death, Ms Clack has been petitioning for Lillie’s law to suspend driving licences, which had its first reading in parliament in June 2022.
While a further meeting took place with the Department for Transport, progress is still ongoing due to cabinet and ministerial changes.
Speaking to The Independent, Siobhain McDonagh, the MP for Merton, said she was “more than delighted” to continue campaigning on Lillie’s behalf.
“What a terrible tragedy it must be,” she said. “It would be any mother’s worst nightmare to open the door on Christmas Day and be confronted with police officers telling you that your daughter had been in an accident.
“It’s extraordinary that people who have been involved in such serious accidents are able to continue getting behind the wheel.”
Lillie’s family, though, are still reeling from their loss. “Lillie was adored and loved by everyone who met her, even if they met her just once. She was remembered for being caring, loving, sassy and had an amazing personality,” her mother said.
“She just went out one day to have fun. She did not come home. She was killed, her life taken away because of another person – and that person, Charlie Hilton, made a choice.”
Nick Lyes, policy and standards director of I Am Roadsmart, one of the largest drink-driver rehabilitation courses, said: “There is perhaps a feeling among those that are going out and driving over the legal limit that they can get away with it. We want there to be the idea that people will get caught because police are out doing breathalyser tests.
“If you’re going out and socialising, don’t drink if you’re driving. It’s as simple as that.”