THE family of a Monmouth professor killed in a high-speed crash branded the two-year sentence given to the driver responsible as “a joke”.
The family of Dr Graham Howells said they were “absolutely disgusted” with the sentence handed to Richard Bentham at Cardiff Crown Court yesterday, calling it “too lenient”. Bentham admitted driving at 128mph before the collision.
Dr Howells, 67, was driving his camper van along the A449 near Usk on October 15 last year when Bentham’s white BMW 320 coupé crashed into the back of his vehicle.
The camper van left the road and collided with a large road sign. Dr Howells was pronounced dead at the scene.
The court heard that Bentham, 22, of The Vineyard, Monmouth, was speeding at around 90mph at the time of the collision.
He admitted “showing off” to his friend, passenger Matthew Tweedle, earlier in the journey, telling police he “floored” down the dip in the road and peaked at 128mph before putting cruise control on.
Bentham said: “I felt completely safe because I know the road so well.”
He said he could have driven along the road “blindfolded” and had never before tested the higher speed of the car.
Prosecutor Christopher Rees said Bentham, who pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, initially lied to the police, saying he was driving at the speed limit and that the camper van’s lights were not on. But Mr Rees said the camper van was well lit and in good working order.
He said Dr Howells maintained a speed of between 51 and 54mph and that Bentham was in fact driving at an overall average of 96mph.
Bentham has previous offences for speeding and for using a mobile phone while driving, but tests on him for alcohol and drugs proved negative.
Patrick Harrington, QC, defending Bentham, said his client was genuinely remorseful and that the “showing off” ended prior to the collision.
The Recorder of Cardiff, Eleri Rees, QC, said the camper van would have been in Bentham’s view 25 seconds prior to impact and that there was no obvious reason why he failed to see it.
Bentham was sentenced to two years in prison and will be released on licence after serving half of that.
He was also disqualified from driving for four years.
Professor much loved and respected
DR GRAHAM Howells spent October 15 last year with his family watching rugby and celebrating the birthdays of son Graham and daughter Martha.
He was described as a loving father and grandfather and ‘had much affection and respect from around the world’. He had lectured at Cardiff and Swansea universities and was a professor of English at the University of Brasilia.
Dr Howells had been travelling around Europe in the camper van with his partner of 16 years, Rejane Xavier, and was due to return to Brazil last November.
Son Graham De Gama Howells said: “He (Bentham) will be able to rebuild his life in 12 months’ time.
“But our dad will still be dead.”
Daughter Martha added the sentence was “a joke” and “too lenient”.