Killer driver was allowed to get behind wheel as soon as his jail term was over.

A coroner is calling for a law change after a driver jailed for killing a woman was allowed back behind the wheel when freed - because his ban expired while he was in prison.

In his findings released today on the death of Debbie Marie Ashton, Coroner Garry Evans called for disqualifications to be served after an offender is released from jail.

Repeat offender Jonathan Barclay's jail term for killing Ms Ashton, 20, in a head-on crash at Nelson in 2006 outlasted his licence disqualification, which meant he was allowed to drive again when free.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said he supported the law change and has ordered staff to investigate.


Ms Ashton's mother, Judy Ashton, wants stricter penalties for recidivists such as Barclay.

"A lot of people just don't believe that [Barclay] lost his licence but it was while he was in prison. The coroner's recommendation does give me that little bit of hope that there will be some further changes made to the Land Transport Act.

"I would like the whole act reviewed to include if you are a repeat offender ... don't just keep giving them a slap on the hand.

"Let's get really firm with the penalties and make them realise that you don't just keep getting another chance and another chance.

"Sadly, we're always going to have those kids and adults who will drive when they're already disqualified, but for those guys straight away it's a jail term - you've got to get them off the streets.

"I just think we're far too lenient on them."

Mr Brownlee said he had asked the Transport and Justice Ministries to investigate how Mr Evans' suggested change could be made.

"On the face of it, I support the change. I will expect a report in the coming weeks on this matter," he said.

Ms Ashton's death, on December 5, 2006, prompted the Government to order an independent inquiry when it was revealed Barclay used a new identity under the witness protection programme to avoid a possible jail term a month before the crash. He had a lengthy criminal history when he faced court in November 2006 but used his new identity to be dealt with as a first-time offender and was handed a minimal punishment.

A month later he was speeding on Paton Rd in Nelson, when he crashed head-on into Ms Aston's vehicle.

Mr Evans found the police and Department of Corrections were taking "every reasonable step" to avoid repeating the mistakes that contributed to Ms Ashton's death.

Faults in the system meant the judge sentencing Barclay in November 2006 was not told of his criminal history.

Staff managing Barclay's parole put too much emphasis on the "covert nature" of the witness protection programme.

The ways protocols around the witness protection programme have been changed are suppressed so as not to reveal how the system works.

Mrs Ashton said her husband, Ted, had met Barclay in a bid to make him realise the consequences of the crash that killed their daughter.

"We live with it forever and it's really difficult. Your life will never be the same again." APNZ