The clip is enough to make you feel nauseous. With one hand barely clasping the wheel, a driver speeds down the motorway so fast your heart is in your mouth. As he weaves in and out of traffic, you almost want to scream “stop!”, knowing the horror coming next.
In dark corners of the internet, there are carbon copies of this video. Filmed by boy racers, they serve one purpose – boasting. Any road death has a kind of bleak pointlessness to it, a sense that just a couple of seconds or a few miles per hour could have meant the difference between that person living or dying.
But when death is the direct result of a dangerous stunt, it must be even harder to bear. Harder still when it can seem that the perpetrator gets off with barely a slap on the wrist.
Last year, the Government increased the maximum jail term for death by dangerous driving, giving judges the option to hand down a life sentence. Since then, not a single life sentence has been issued.
When Calvin Buckley’s partner, Frankie Jules-Hough, and their unborn daughter, Neeve, were killed on May 13, he never questioned that the driver who drove into them at terrifying speed would be put away for a very long time.
Adil Iqbal, 22, was weaving his father’s BMW through traffic on the M66 in Bury, Greater Manchester, tailgating, undertaking, and filming on his phone. Seconds before he crashed into Frankie’s car (which was pulled up on the hard shoulder with a puncture) he was clocking 123 mph.
Iqbal had undertaken a motorbike, swerved and hit a crash barrier, spinning and ploughing into Frankie’s Skoda Fabia at an estimated 92mph. The brain injuries Frankie, 38, sustained were so severe she died two days later, never having regained consciousness.
Her daughter died with her. Her eldest son, Thomas, nine, and nephew, Tobias, four, were left in comas; they spent weeks in intensive care and are still being treated for their injuries four months on. Iqbal, meanwhile, was sentenced to just 12 years in prison.
Polly Herbert, representing Buckley, said she had been “hoping and anticipating for the maximum sentence to be handed down”.
“Myself and other members of the legal team have sadly seen many incidents of dangerous driving, but the aggravating features and the prolonged nature of the reckless driving was horrific.
“Plus it was all caught on camera - even one being handheld by the defendant.
“We have all been left thinking: what else needs to be evidenced in a case to attract the maximum sentence?”
RoadPeace, a charity which supports people who have lost loved ones to road deaths, is launching a campaign on Monday, calling on the justice system to make use of the longer sentences they have been granted. Five people are killed every day on British roads and more than 60 seriously injured, yet the sentences handed down are often minimal.
“People who kill with guns, knives and other lethal weapons get long custodial sentences, sending out strong messages to society that violent offences will not be tolerated, and deterring future offenders,” says Rebecca Morris, head of communications at RoadPeace.
“In contrast, dangerous drivers who kill or seriously injure innocent people get far shorter custodial sentences, and some avoid jail altogether.”
The night before Frankie – who was best known for her work on the soap Hollyoaks – was killed, she and Buckley had a perfect evening. He recalls feeling “blessed”.
He made dinner; they stayed up late talking, dreaming up the life they were about to embark on as a family. “It was a beautiful evening,” he says. “We were planning our future.” The following day, the actions of one man put an end to that imagined future in seconds.
When Buckley, 40, got the call to say his partner of two years had been in a crash he raced to the scene, a 15-minute drive away from the Bury Arcade Club, where Frankie had collected Thomas only an hour before. Traffic was building up – frantic with worry, at one point, he found himself calculating how long it would take him to sprint up the hard shoulder.
Frankie had both her young sons (from previous relationships) and her nephew in the car. She had been on the phone to Thomas’s father when she let out a “blood-curdling scream”. Buckley can’t bear the fact that she saw the car coming. “She must have done, to let out that scream,” he says. “It’s not a nice thought knowing that the last thing she saw scared her.”
Amid the chaos, he found Thomas, who was on the ground surrounded by paramedics. Then he saw the car, the entire back of which was “completely crushed”. He started to panic, then his eyes found Frankie.
“[Paramedics] said ‘look, we don’t know the extent of her injuries at the moment, but it’s really bad. There’s pressure coming [in her brain] so we need to operate on her, now’.”
Frankie’s body was going into shock. “There was a lot of jerking and movement and she had blood coming out of her mouth.”
Paramedics warned Buckley they needed to make slits in her eyes and put a tube in her throat, and suggested he might prefer not to watch. “I said ‘no, it’s fine, I’m here, I’m calm, I’m not going to get in anyone’s way, just leave me be’. I couldn’t just go and sit on the side. I just wanted to be close to everyone.”
He found Frankie’s nephew, who was also unconscious and being treated. “He had blood coming from the back of his head and he just looked lifeless and really pale.” Buckley spotted her youngest son, who had also been in the car, in the arms of a member of the public, miraculously unharmed. “As soon as he saw me he put his arms out and I just held him.”
He later learnt Iqbal was sitting just yards away from him in a police car, having attempted to play down what happened to officers at the scene. “He was trying to make out like he’d done nothing wrong,” says Buckley, speaking in his lawyer’s office in Manchester, where he is now fighting to have Iqbal’s sentence extended.
It would be days before Frankie’s family discovered the truth: that the collision which killed their beloved daughter, mother, partner, was all for the sake of “likes” on social media.
Frankie was airlifted to Preston, the boys to Manchester Royal Infirmary. The family were “torn”, says Buckley. “Do they stay with Frankie who might be about to pass, or do they stay with the boys?” They split themselves between three bedsides.
Doctors soon told Buckley and Frankie’s dad, Frank, that there was little hope. Her injuries were so severe, even if she did come round, she wouldn’t “have any capacity”. She could die “at any moment”.
Buckley had known Frankie since they were teenagers – he was in the year above her at school. The couple reconnected online during the pandemic. At the time, Frankie had her own business selling healing boxes. Buckley ordered one and was pleasantly surprised when she hand-delivered it. “There was chemistry, a spark between us.”
It wasn’t long before they were together. Something about it “felt right”. Buckley, a youth worker, cares for his teenage nephew, and Frankie had her boys, but they soon knew they wanted to blend their families and have another child.
“What people don’t realise is, it’s not just the loss of the life,” says Buckley, “it’s the loss of everything I’ve been planning, my future ambitions – they’re all gone.”
For two days, Buckley sat vigil, holding Frankie’s hand, watching the clock. “They told us it could be half an hour but then [the] hours are passing. We’ve gone from teatime to midnight to two in the morning, three in the morning. She was still there.” Doctors said they would give it 72 hours “to basically see if a miracle happens”, then they would turn off her life-support machine.
“The first day it felt like we didn’t want to lose all hope,” says Buckley. By the second, reality was beginning to land. “We were basically losing her. Best-case scenario, she could breathe for herself and get to the point where the baby could survive.”
The unborn Neeve’s heartbeat was still strong. If Frankie could breathe on her own without the machines, would they want to keep her alive to give Neeve a chance of survival? “Everyone was in agreement that if there was a chance we would like to save the baby,” says Buckley. “It would have taken one element of the tragedy off. We would have lost one person, not two.”
To this day, the fact that Neeve’s life was not considered in the court case (at 17 weeks, the pregnancy was deemed too early to be taken into account), is a source of deep pain.
By the second night, a change had come over Frankie. “We could start to see she was, you know…” he pauses. “It looked like she was dying.”
That night, the family all took time alone with her. Buckley had sat calmly by her bed for 48 hours. Finally, he broke down. “I grieved, cried. I was distraught. It was the saddest, most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.” He played Frankie some of their songs and held her hand. “I still felt kind of blessed that we could do that. It was strange, like in her death she was still comforting us.”
Frankie’s mother was with her when she shouted for everyone to hurry, saying: “she’s going, she’s going”.
“She took her last breath,” Buckley says. “And that was it.”
He never considered Iqbal wouldn’t get a severe sentence. “It seemed like this case was an opportunity for them to use that sentence for the first time. That’s what we thought he would get.”
One of the hardest parts of the trial was having to watch the footage Iqbal filmed in the moments before he collided with Frankie’s car. “I felt I had to,” says Buckley, a quiet, stoic man, with a gentle voice and deep wells of sadness behind his brown eyes.
How did it feel to hear he hadn’t just been speeding, but filming it too? “It made it seem like maybe this was avoidable,” says Buckley. “For what? My life, my future, everything gone for him to show off.”
After the trial, police lodged an appeal on behalf of Frankie’s family. The date for that appeal has been set for October 13, which would have been Neeve’s due date. “A day when I should have been celebrating my daughter. Now I’m going to have to be in court finding out if I get some justice for what happened to her.”
Until then, Buckley’s days are about marking time. Every news story about a road accident affects him. Sometimes, the grief is too much to bear. “I live with triggers daily,” he says. “I can’t go back to a normal life. Not right now.”
He is understandably private about the boys’ treatment, only saying it is ongoing. His focus is getting “justice” for Frankie and Neeve. “I can’t go back to a normal life, not right now.”
The case is “the best way for me to channel my energy”.
With RoadPeace, he is calling for courts to impose lifetime driving bans and jail sentences in the hope that in future cases, bereaved families won’t be so badly let down.
Mostly, though, he is sitting tight and waiting for that appeal date. “I have to do this for me, but it’s not just for me, it’s for her boys as well.”