Senior policeman calls for tougher sentences for drivers who kill

Senior policeman says sentences should reflect human contribution to fatalities that are anything but 'accidents'

by Simon_MacMichael   February 13, 2012  

Metropolitan Police.jpg

The head of the Metropolitan Police’s Road Death Investigation Unit has echoed the sentiment of many cyclists by issuing an appeal for motorists who cause death while driving to face tougher sentences, including life imprisonment in some circumstances.

As many cases reported here on road.cc testify – we’ve highlighted some at the end of this article – all too often there is a perception that drivers benefit from a lenient approach from the courts, with a number of motorists found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving escaping custodial sentences.

According to The Times, Detective Chief Inspector John Oldham of the Metropolitan Police believes that the families of victims of road traffic incidents, including pedestrians and other road users besides cyclists are resentful of what he calls “very small” sentences imposed in cases where there has been recklessness on the motorist’s part.

He added that the common description of such incidents as “accidents” was often misleading, since human intervention had contributed to the tragic outcome.

Currently, causing death by dangerous driving has a maximum punishment of 14 years in prison, although that is seldom imposed; Dennis Putz, the lorry driver convicted of killing Catriona Patel while drunk and on his mobile phone, who had a string of previous driving-related convictions, received seven years in jail.

“The sentences are very small, and the families hate that,” explained DCI Oldham. “In my particular world we get very upset by the word ‘accident’,” he added.

“For families there is no accident about it. An accident on the road is the result of the decisions people make.”

For DCI Oldham, where drivers were found to have been guilty of recklessness, sentences should come more into line with those for manslaughter or murder.

In the case of the death of cyclists, such charges are extremely rare. In 2010, five men were sentenced to between five and a half and 12 years in jail for the manslaughter of cyclist Graham Thwaites in South-East London.

The men, involved in a dispute over money, had been engaged in a car chase when the vehicle being driven by one of them struck and killed Mr Thwaites.

The same year, a motorist in Coventry who deliberately ran down and killed cyclist Paul Webb in a road rage attack in Coventry was convicted of murder and received a mandatory life sentence, with the judge recommending that he serve a minimum of 13 years before being considered for parole.

Such cases are very much the exception, however, with charges more likely to be brought under the offences of causing death by careless driving, introduced in 2008 and carrying a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment or, in more serious cases, causing death by dangerous driving.

Referring to the body of legislation regarding causing death by dangerous or careless driving on the one hand, and laws regarding homicide more generally on the other, DCI Oldham maintained: “We should amalgamate the two acts.”

He underlined that he was specifically talking about instances where fault on the driver’s part could be established – “ “When you have a proper case — eg, a cup of tea in their hand, [or] they’ve been driving for 24 hours.”

A case that springs immediately to mind in that context was reported here just last week – that of 43-year-old cyclist Robert Gregory from Milton Keynes, killed by a car driving by a motorist who was adjusting his radio at the time of the fatal collision. The driver was given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to causing death by careless driving, as well as causing death by driving a vehicle while uninsured.

Adding his support to The Times’ Cities Fit For Cycling campaign, DCI Oldham said that “more and more” cyclists would be killed unless there was a fundamental rethink in the approach to road design in the capital and eslewhere, not just focused on the dangerous junctions currently being reviewed by Transport for London.

“These deaths are coming from all over the place, not just dangerous junctions,” he explained. “With the increase in traffic there will be more deaths. We have a road layout not designed for the two forms of transport.”

The Times reported that according to official figures, some 456 people stood trial at Crown Court between 2005 and 2006 charged with causing death by dangerous driving, with those who pleaded guilty receiving an average prison sentence of between three years eight months and three years nine months.

Clicking on the ‘causing death by careless driving’ and ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ tags below will bring up other cases that we have reported upon where such charges have been brought.

29 user comments

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The man talks sense.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2288 posts]
13th February 2012 - 11:27

6 Likes

There is some sense in this proposal but I think it misses the point.

The problem is rarely that people make a conscious decision to commit a deadly act on the road. (And if they did, I suspect a murder charge is still possible.)

As a general rule, no-one drives behind a cyclist and ploughs into the back of them having weighed up the sentencing risks and thought "yup, it's worth the chance of doing stir."

The problem is people who are distracted (by radios, satnavs, children, phones, hair preening etc), people who are incapacitated (by drink, drugs, lack of sleep, medicines etc), people who are spatially unaware, people with poor eyesight, people who do not adapt their driving to adverse conditions (rain, ice, fog, winscreen glare etc), people who cannot predict hazards (cyclsists having to swerve, oncoming vehicles when overtaking etc).

In short, the problem is not people who are malicious but people who are not driving in a fully capable and responsible manner.

The law, in statute and in case, does not rap people hard enough on the knuckes for these offences. People will have umpteen near misses and think it's fine. You and I will be buzzed by cars on country lanes until one of us is lying dead in a verge because the law does not take incidents seriously enough where there is no fatality or severe injury.

What we need is to teach people that careless use of the roads is a very, very serious problem *before* they kill or maim.

What we need is a *mandatory* driving ban -- even just a small one -- *and* mandatory retest at the offender's expense for *every* offence of dangerous driving or driving without due care and attention, or of driving whilst uninsured or with no MOT, or of speeding, or of any similar offence.

To simply raise the bar for the most serious offences is, I think, to gravely misunderstand the causes of real harm on the road.

The culture in this country is one of tolerating poor driving, and it is that which must be addressed.

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [426 posts]
13th February 2012 - 11:59

3 Likes

Bez wrote:
There is some sense in this proposal but I think it misses the point...

The problem is people who are distracted (by radios, satnavs, children, phones, hair preening etc), people who are incapacitated (by drink, drugs, lack of sleep, medicines etc), people who are spatially unaware, people with poor eyesight, people who do not adapt their driving to adverse conditions (rain, ice, fog, winscreen glare etc), people who cannot predict hazards (cyclsists having to swerve, oncoming vehicles when overtaking etc).

In short, the problem is not people who are malicious but people who are not driving in a fully capable and responsible manner.

DCi Oldham said he was talking about instances “When you have a proper case — eg, a cup of tea in their hand, [or] they’ve been driving for 24 hours.”

Only two examples, but they do seem to be exactly the type of circumstances you are talking about?

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8388 posts]
13th February 2012 - 12:20

5 Likes

Bez wrote:
...The culture in this country is one of tolerating poor driving, and it is that which must be addressed.

I think that this is the essence of the problem, although I think the problem is not limited to 1 country !!

Also I would suggest that poor driving is not only tolerated, but to many people, it is even 'cool' e.g. using a mobile phone on the move to show you are a cool, social, multitasker who is too important to pull over and stop to phone.

posted by zoxed [63 posts]
13th February 2012 - 12:21

3 Likes

There are much clearer sentence structures for manslaughter. Surely accidentally killing a cyclist when driving a car equates to manslaughter?

There are instances where cyclists have been deliberately attacked by motorists using cars. Surely sentencing should be comparable to assault with a deadly weapon, or intention to kill?

Under law, ignorance of the law does not constitute a defence. And being ignorant of the risks to driving ability caused by sleep deprivation, use of mobile phone or drugs for example, also does not constitute a defence.

I agree on mandatory retests, but for serious driving offences only.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2288 posts]
13th February 2012 - 12:25

5 Likes

I posted this on another forum a few days ago...
Was watching a new episode of one of those Police Interceptor type things recently and what struck me was the voice-over at the end where they do a round up and summary of all that's gone on in the programme.

Examples like:
"the young man driving with no licence and insurance was fined £60 and banned from driving"
"the man convicted of speeding while drink driving was given 3 penalty points"
and so on.

NOTHING! How is banning an already illegal driver going to stop him driving? The level of tolerance we show (as Bez says above) to truly atrocious levels of driving are just incredible. Far far tougher sentencing for any driving offences, never mind the bleating about "right to drive" or "war on motorists". How was a young driver, with a speeding offence after only a few months with a licence, allowed back out on the roads to kill Rob Jefferies? Any offence in your first year no matter how minor should remove your licence automatically.

posted by crazy-legs [548 posts]
13th February 2012 - 13:12

5 Likes

Bez wrote:
There is some sense in this proposal but I think it misses the point.
...
To simply raise the bar for the most serious offences is, I think, to gravely misunderstand the causes of real harm on the road.

The culture in this country is one of tolerating poor driving, and it is that which must be addressed.

Exactly. It's not sufficient to merely address extreme edge-cases of death caused by car-drivers: 1) intending to hit someone with their car; 2) deliberately being careless with a radio; 3) taking drink or drugs.

It's too bloody late by the time that's happened and it's probably a small subset of road deaths and an even smaller subset where it's provable.

Instead car-driving needs to be de-normalized, especially in its current widespread low-skill, dangerous form.

Calling for separate bike infrastructure and locking obvious villains up for "exemplary" sentences is just chest-beating to make it seem like something is being done about an inherently dangerous system of transport.

It should be easier to lose driving privileges based on observed behaviour instead of having to prove that some dingbat was bending down to adjust their radio while smoking a spliff.

posted by Ush [420 posts]
13th February 2012 - 15:16

3 Likes

Ush wrote:
It should be easier to lose driving privileges based on observed behaviour instead of having to prove that some dingbat was bending down to adjust their radio while smoking a spliff.

It would be nice. Seems unachievable, though. I regularly see people driving whilst on the phone, or wandering across the lane whilst presumably half asleep, but what can you do? Can't exactly whip the phone out and take a video since that'd be just as bad. Gathering evidence isn't an option. Even making an allegation isn't easy since to do it safely you'd have to memorise the vehicle details and time and location until you got to your destination -- and I've tried that several times, but never succeeded.

In a way it'd be lovely to have a constantly-buffering mini camera embedded in the grille, with a button on the steering wheel to store the last few minutes' video... Smile

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [426 posts]
13th February 2012 - 15:24

2 Likes

Better enforcement of existing road rules for driving would go a long way to improve safety. The driving culture also has to change however.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2288 posts]
13th February 2012 - 18:07

1 Like

The problem we have is that to many people basically dont care anymore it's as simple as that.

For instance 3 points and a £60 fine for using a mobile - bollocks to that make it £100 and 6 points - get caught twice and your banned on the totting up, simples !

Ush stated - Instead car-driving needs to be de-normalized, especially in its current widespread low-skill, dangerous form.

Spot on mate, there is far to many people who pass their test and think thats it i'm Jenson Button and away i go. The test needs to be harder, more in depth and possibly an increase in age to 21. Retest's should be carried out every 5 years.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2824 posts]
13th February 2012 - 18:49

2 Likes

Bez wrote:

In a way it'd be lovely to have a constantly-buffering mini camera embedded in the grille, with a button on the steering wheel to store the last few minutes' video... Smile

something like this? http://www.dogcamsport.co.uk/drive-recorders.html

posted by 37monkey [143 posts]
13th February 2012 - 19:57

2 Likes

Yeah, but without me having to drop 40 green queens on it. Maybe you should get a free one from the government if you pass an IAM test or something. You'd be a road prefect, with a special tie so all the cool kids could bully you for dobbing them in.

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [426 posts]
13th February 2012 - 20:22

2 Likes

The clue is to consider the legislation relating to the keeping and use of motor vehicles along the same lines as keeping and using guns.

Both have the capability of killing, injuring or doing damage, with the same degrees if intent - fully intended acts to kill or main (attempted murder is usually the charge when a gun is involved) reckless stupidity (generally moving towards manslaughter - but could be considered as murder) a lapse of attentiveness (manslaughter - as you should have been aware that the gun you are carrying - or that you own has the capacity to kill or maim).

It would present an immense workload (probably why the DfT won't want to do it) but if fatal and serious crashes on the road were investigated and reported on with the same diligence as for rail, air and maritime crashes, with a clear listing of causal factors and recommendations to prevent a repeat occurrence, and this system was backed up by the application of the health & safety at work act to the road as a place of work, and public activity, we might just see some change.

The tools are in place and HSE have a long standing note that their biggest workplace hazard is when the workplace is 'on the road' and it is where they have the least ability to hold employers and employees to account. There is a long chain of deaths and injuries through drivers being tired, ill trained, or poorly equipped. When a study was carried out a third of KSI on the road were related to driving at or for work, and this was 10% of KSI 'at work'. One example (a cyclist killed but when a car passenger relates to a shopfitter who had driven from Manchester to Glasgow, installed worktops, and then was driving back via Dumfries and drove head on into a car. The clients/contractor who required such an excessive workload failed in delivery of a Duty of care, as much as the driver for driving.

And please stop calling it strict liability - presumed liability is a far better term - if you own any thing that can kill or maim, guns, cars, bench saws, power presses etc and someone gets hurt than there is an automatic presumption that you carry the liability and have to show that the guards and safety catches were in place and checked to mitigate that liability. Cars can kill & injure - someone gets hurt by your car than you are liable, for it existence as a dangerous piece of machinery.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [499 posts]
14th February 2012 - 8:26

3 Likes

A V Lowe wrote:
The clue is to consider the legislation relating to the keeping and use of motor vehicles along the same lines as keeping and using guns.

Makes a lot of sense to me.

posted by Ush [420 posts]
14th February 2012 - 14:59

4 Likes

DCI Oldham's comments are welcome, it needs to be said.

Less convinced by this,

"Motoring lawyer Jeanette Miller [says] '£60 is a substantial sum to drivers"

A huge amount, about a tank of fuel even..

posted by james-o [208 posts]
14th February 2012 - 16:00

3 Likes

stumps wrote:
make it £100 and 6 points

The first part of that is in the pipeline. Needless to say, it's proving as popular as a fart in a lift. Here's Confused.com publishing it in their own, inimitable, circumspect and definitely-not-inflammatory style (it's just a couple of posts up from "Are women better at parking than men? Have your say!"):

http://www.confused.com/car-insurance/articles/higher-fines-for-speeding...

"Motoring lawyer Jeanette Miller [says] '£60 is a substantial sum to drivers, so to increase fines to £100 is fairly significant and I can see why many drivers would regard it as an unfair tax'."

Ms Miller's statement is unmitigated hogwash from start to finish -- clearly the work of having to legally defend an endless stream of total arsecandles has taken its toll on her senses.

And it's always nice to see the good old "it's a tax" thing again. Like spot fines for littering are a tax on eating. Almost certainly cited by the same sort of self-serving moron who would normally gladly avoid tax at any opportunity (I appreciate that any correlation inferred is a result of my own, somewhat amateur psychometric profiling rather than any published statistical data, but -- well, come on).

Not to mention the fact that Confused.com also publish (incompetently analysed -- surprise) evidence that rather suggests that speeding tends to be more prevalent in people with expensive cars, thus the ones most likely to speed are the ones most likely to have enough income to not worry unduly about the extra £40:

http://www.confused.com/press/releases/cars-topping-the-speed-charts

In Confused.com's defence, at least they did manage to state that "driving legally is clearly a challenge to a significant proportion of drivers".

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [426 posts]
14th February 2012 - 16:39

3 Likes

At last! Someone with some sense regarding sentencing in this car-favoured country of ours

posted by Karbon Kev [682 posts]
15th February 2012 - 17:27

3 Likes

A car whenever it is driven is a deadly weapon. Driving is one of the few activities permitted on a day to day basis that can relatively easily result in death of the participants or innocent bystanders. So attitudes to car use need to be tightened up. The balance of our rights and responsibilities when in charge of a car are seriously skewed in favour of our rights. The law seems to assume everyone in charge of a car will do everything in his/her power to ensure they meet their responsibilities in full, but as usual, the law is an ass.

ChrisS

posted by Chris S [44 posts]
15th February 2012 - 18:10

4 Likes

What a brilliant post Bez.

This guy may well be a Chief Inspector of Traffic and indeed will have the appropriate CV, but I am afraid it also requires a lateral mind too and not one that merely follows a mantra.

The problem generally is one I have identified and is acknowledged in this post. And this is where the lateral thinking that most traffic officers don't have comes into play

It is from economic expediency that any Tom Dick & Harry with a very basic tuition and no psychology tests can operate large pieces of machinery among human beings and all sharing the same tracks and from different directions. So nasty things are going to happen. Worse than that, this policeman's industry, and let's face it he is earning big bucks from this too, in ignoring real accident causes for profitable reasons, are actually causing many accidents too. So the establishment and society, having set up the scenario, then want to jail people when it all goes wrong?

Laterally thinking too I will add that, if we all stopped driving, many thousands more would die very soon after since, for all the basics on which we all depend, we fetch and carry by road. This policeman is too negative about drivers since the pluses far outweigh the negatives

So far as cycling is concerned: For the aforesaid reasons,on a pushbike, in the road, is not a good place to be I am afraid.

posted by Driver Protest Union [17 posts]
15th February 2012 - 19:43

2 Likes

You all seem to forget that cyclists were using the roads for years before cars were invented. Thinking

posted by brandobiker [22 posts]
15th February 2012 - 21:40

3 Likes

Human life is precious, we need to make everyone who drives a motor vehicle, aware of the cost of taking or injuring any human life; and there should be a harsh penalty to pay for doing so.

The Law, and public awareness of cyclists should be at the forefront of everyone who drives!

Careless action cost lives!

posted by Mostyn [407 posts]
16th February 2012 - 9:20

3 Likes

DCI Oldham is spot on. Killing someone accidentally is manslaughter yet we've invented these extra offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving to make it somehow more palatable.

The reason we have these offences is that our love of the motor car is beyond all reason. Worse still is that the families receive just £7,000 compensation for a death caused by uninsured drivers. (Most of these "accidents" are caused by them).

I've run over a cat and a hedgehog by mistake (not on the same day) and I feel bad enough about that.

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [291 posts]
16th February 2012 - 10:59

2 Likes

Driver Protest Union wrote:
It is from economic expediency that any Tom Dick & Harry with a very basic tuition and no psychology tests can operate large pieces of machinery among human beings and all sharing the same tracks and from different directions....

...if we all stopped driving, many thousands more would die very soon after since, for all the basics on which we all depend, we fetch and carry by road. This policeman is too negative about drivers since the pluses far outweigh the negatives

So, to be clear, you are saying that, because driving is economically justified, we shouldn't bother trying to discourage dangerous behaviour which (a) could easily be avoided and (b) actually reduces the economic benefit to society by increasing costs and causing delays and disruption on the roads? Ignoring the moral argument that you should try to reduce the harm as far as possible, your argument doesn't even stand up to it's own logic.

Driver Protest Union wrote:
So far as cycling is concerned: For the aforesaid reasons,on a pushbike, in the road, is not a good place to be I am afraid.

This may be the case. But just because the circumstances do exist doesn't mean they should.

OldRidgeback wrote:
In other words, cycling is part of the answer to congestion (not to mention road wear/potholes) and not the cause of it.

Nicely put, OldRidgeback. Driver Protest Union seems to think that we should all stop riding bikes so that he can get where he wants/needs to go without the irritation of cyclists in his way. But it would be considerably more of an irritation if all those cyclists were in cars.

DPU - once again, you've shown a complete lack of understanding on the only subject you ever post on. Maybe time to find something else to protest about, eh?

posted by step-hent [697 posts]
16th February 2012 - 11:38

1 Like

Drivers Protest Union - the dangers of cycling are outweighed by the health benefits by a factor of 20:1. The UK's roads are congested, which leads to all sorts of problems and irritations for all road users. But what's often not appreciated by many car drivers, is that: A most adult cyclists are also car (over 85%) drivers and B: the presence of cyclists on the roads reduces traffic congestion.

Various studies reveal that for any given European city, if 10% of drivers were to switch from cars to motorcycles, congestion would be reduced 40%. Given the small footprint of a bicycle on the road, I expect the research could be expected to show similar congestion reduction being achieved if drivers were to switch to bicycle transport also.

What is not commonly understood is that cyclists reduce traffic congestion in urban areas, not increase it. In other words, cycling is part of the answer to congestion (not to mention road wear/potholes) and not the cause of it.

That roads can be dangerous to cyclists is to a very large degree because so many drivers, as can be shown by DfT figures, cause most of the accidents involving bicycles.

As you yourself state, lateral thinking is required. And it is clear that in a small country with a large population, it is simply not possible for a continued increase in vehicle movements on the nation's road network. Traffic growth will have to be managed, and that will require restrictions on the number of motor vehicle movements at peak periods. Cycling forms one of the tools to cut congestion (not to mention vehicle emissions), along with motorcycling, public transport, congestion charging, tolling and quite possibly - road user charging as well.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2288 posts]
16th February 2012 - 13:48

1 Like

Step-hent - no problem.

I meant to add too that since truck transport is so crucial to the running of the UK economy, imposing financial restrictions on truck use could have unwanted economic disadvantages. But better management of truck movements, such as restricting them at peak periods, would help reduce congestion. The sheer number of private cars on UK roads is a key problem for congestion. The UK's landmass is quite small, its population desnity in urban areas is quite high and it already has one of the highest ratios for the number of licensed cars/km of road of any country on the planet. You can only jam so much into a box before its full.

Managing private car use, particularly when so many cars are used for short, single occupancy journeys at peak periods, is key to cutting congestion. Encouraging more people to give up using cars for the those journeys (and remember 80% of journeys in cars in the UK are for distances of 2 miles or less) would cut a huge slice from the daily traffic volumes on our roads. And if more of those drivers switching from car use took up cycling, there would be a corresponding reduction in the huge quantities the NHS spends takling the UK's fast growing obesity problem.

If DPU took a lateral approach to the problem, well I think you can guess the rest.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2288 posts]
16th February 2012 - 13:58

2 Likes

Don't forget that the likes of you people reading this probably are among the best skilled, road-aware cyclists. I (while driving more often than riding) am regularly astounded by the number of young lads snaking from one side of the road to the other on a BMX with no lights or reflectors, no helmet, and wearing dark clothing, AT NIGHT, as they pass into my headlight beam at short range. Cyclists in general need to get their act together too.

Andy

posted by jazzdude [60 posts]
16th February 2012 - 14:10

2 Likes

About time that the Met made it's views clear ! It must be disheartening to put so much work into discovering the factors contributing to the incident and then find that a " slap on the wrist " from the courts is the result ?

There is no such thing as a " Traffic Accident " , i know , i have suffered them ! Jumping out of your car without looking and thus skittling a cyclist , is no accident , that the cyclist then falls under a passing vehicle , is no accident ! Careless behaviour causes death on the roads , just as it does in the factory !

Driver's licenses are a privelege that require attention to detail at all times . Suggestions in this comment section of compulsory 5 year renewal of licenses go a little towards improving the standard of behaviour but i would add that mandatory Oral , Written and Practical demonstration of ability should be a requirement along with an independent Doctor's examination before the renewal is granted ! When involved in an accident , compulsory breathe and Drug tests on ALL parties driving will send a clear message that times are changing and a higher standard is required of all .

Lower urban speed limits will mean that there will be less inclination to take the car to the local shops , even if there is parking nearby . At 20mph there will be less frustration from following a cyclist , as there will be plenty of time to see safe passing opportunities , compared to haring around at 30+mph , when it will be necessary to brake , before overtaking when there is traffic .

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

skippy's picture

posted by skippy [391 posts]
16th February 2012 - 18:17

2 Likes

when I encounter dangerous driving if possible i make like I want to remonstrate with the driver and when the prick pulls over I simply make like I am about to punch him and whilst he is focused on my fist i am removing the ignition key. By the time he has noticed I have his key I am down the road with it looking for a drain or a ditch to throw it in unless of course they accept my generous offer of a reasonable 'fine' to have it awarded back to them. It is suprising how often these people pull over and even more suprising how many drivers give me a lot of room on the road if any driver wishes to use his vehichle as a weapon I wish to dissarm the fucker

tired old fart

posted by tired old fart [82 posts]
31st October 2012 - 13:23

2 Likes

.

tired old fart

posted by tired old fart [82 posts]
31st October 2012 - 13:31

2 Likes