Wreckage: the Audi car was displayed in Westminster
Wreckage: the Audi car was displayed in Westminster

It was a day of high drama in Westminster. On 11 July, Andrea Leadsom, the then Conservative energy minister, drew the attention of the nation by announcing dramatically at noon that she was withdrawing from the Conservative leadership race.

But throughout the morning, it was a charity that was in the spotlight. Brake, which campaigns to prevent deaths and injuries caused by road crashes, had displayed the wreckage of an Audi A5 Sport, sliced in two down the middle, outside the Houses of Parliament. The car had belonged to a young man called Joseph Brown-Lartey, who was killed after being hit by a speeding driver who ran a red light at 80mph.

"It was a really visual way of getting MPs to see the consequences of people driving like maniacs," says Alice Bailey, campaigns and communications officer at the Huddersfield-based charity, which had an income of £1.3m in 2015. The stunt, which was part of the charity's Roads to Justice campaign, was designed to get the government to review its guidelines for charging and sentencing drivers convicted of killing people in crashes.

The charity's strong links with the police, with whom it regularly works on road safety events, proved invaluable in putting the unusual campaign into action.

Through these contacts, the charity heard that the Brown-Lartey family was planning to donate Joseph's car to Greater Manchester Police for educational purposes. "We asked the family if we could use the car and they said they would love us to," says Bailey.

The police also handled the transportation of the car down to London - the Brown-Lartey's family liaison officer drove it and stored it in a police station overnight - and opened the doors for the charity to display the vehicle in one of the country's most famous locations.

Bailey says that Brake's request to display the car in front of the Houses of Parliament was originally turned down by Westminster Council, but a police officer known to the charity asked permission from the police at Westminster on the day - and this time the answer was yes.

"So in the end we got the spot that we originally wanted, by the back door and by having the police officers on our side," says Bailey.

The journalists who flocked to the scene on 11 July also helped. "It's amazing how people don't question you if you have a couple of television cameras and a BBC reporter with you," she says. "We got to stay there for big chunks of the morning, which was great."

Bailey says the car was seen by thousands of people during that time, including several MPs. And the campaign reached millions through the media.

The national television coverage was unprecedented for Brake, with footage of the car featured on BBC Breakfast and BBC News throughout the day, as well as 5 News, ITV and numerous regional and local channels. It was also covered by a host of radio stations - including Radio 4's Today programme - and in most of the national newspapers.

According to Bailey, this is partly down to a survey launched on the day of the photo call that showed two-thirds of people questioned thought drivers convicted of killing should be jailed for at least 10 years - a powerful contrast to the three-year sentence handed to the driver who killed Joseph Brown-Lartey.

The campaign, which also consists of digital storytelling and a petition that has so far attracted more than 13,000 signatures, will run until December. Bailey says its success now depends on the government deciding to set a time and date to review sentences for driving offences.

The government has said that it will launch a consultation on sentencing reform by the end of this year.

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