Parents of teenager killed by drunk driver claim ‘they were not supported’

The parents of a teenage girl killed by a drunk driver have said they were never contacted by a court or victim support service during their 15-month wait for justice, instead having to ask for updates on the case from local news reporters and the police.

Paul and Nicky Johnson’s 17-year-old daughter Phoebe was killed when a car being driven by her friend, Melissa Keilloh, crashed on the A514 near Derby in October 2021.

Keilloh, 20, was jailed for three years and disqualified from driving for six-and-a-half years on Tuesday after admitting to causing death by careless driving while over the alcohol limit.

Her sentencing took place almost three months later than originally planned, and Mr and Mrs Johnson claimed they were never contacted by a court or victim support service about the case, a situation they described as a “shambles”.

Melissa Keilloh court case
Paul and Nicky Johnson, the parents of Phoebe Johnson (Joe Giddens/PA)

Mrs Johnson, 54, said: “Why didn’t we have better contact? There was no communication, other than our police liaison officer.

“We have not had contact from anyone. It makes us feel forgotten, an afterthought and like Phoebe was forgotten.

“I said at the beginning that I didn’t want this to be diluted down, for Phoebe to be forgotten, and that’s how we felt; that the seriousness of it had been diluted down, and that she had been forgotten, and that she didn’t matter, the case didn’t matter, none of it mattered.”

Delays to sentencing meant the couple had to spend a second Christmas with the verdict hanging over them, after Keilloh, of Hartshorne, first appeared in Crown Court on October 27.

At that hearing, the case was adjourned to December 8 to allow a back calculation of Keilloh’s alcohol level at the time of the crash to be sought, but a judge told the court that the hearing should not be postponed any further.

After hearing nothing from the court, the couple was told that the hearing had been postponed to January 12 by a local newspaper reporter.

Throughout the case, Mrs Johnson was able to see photos of Keilloh smiling, going on holiday and enjoying afternoon tea on social media, which only worsened her grief as she came to terms with her loss.

Melissa Keilloh court case
Undated family handout of Phoebe Johnson (centre) (Family/PA)

The hearing was then pushed back without explanation for a third time, to Tuesday, and was changed from a plea and sentencing hearing to a plea hearing only.

This change meant the couple told other relatives who lived elsewhere – including Phoebe’s half-sisters – not to travel, and only when they were on the way to Derby were they informed by their police liaison officer that the sentencing would take place as well, which left Mrs Johnson feeling “numb”.

She said: “You need to mentally prepare yourself, and we had prepared ourselves for plea only – we expected to be there for half an hour and that was it.

“We didn’t have our victim statements or anything, we felt that we weren’t important, that it was being done with no regard for us.

“I was numb, but to be honest, I was not at all surprised as it has been a shambles from the off and it just continued.”

Mr Johnson, 63, added: “The defendant would have been informed, and her family, as she had a bag with her.

“They were told, so why weren’t we?”

Melissa Keilloh court case
Phoebe Johnson (Family/PA)

The result of the back-calculation requested by the defence barrister in October was not disclosed to the prosecutor or mentioned in court.

In Mr Johnsons victim impact statement – in which he said his “hatred” of Keilloh was one of the only things keeping him alive – he said the justice system had become a “failed regime”, but he was prevented from saying the latter remark by the judge.

The couple were also left aggrieved when the judge looked through the statement prior to it being read out and told the packed courtroom that he was “not even that impressed by it”.

The experience has left them with no faith in the justice system, but they, and the large group of Phoebe’s friends – many of whom attended court, also now hope to move on with the help of counselling.

The incident has made the couple abandon plans to leave their home in Swadlincote, Derbyshire, where they have lived for more than 20 years.

Melissa Keilloh court case
Paul and Nicky Johnson (Joe Giddens/PA)

Phoebe’s room has remained untouched since her death, with a Twix wrapper on the dressing table and her iPad is in the same position as when she left home for the final time on the evening of October 22 2021.

Mr Johnson described Phoebe, who had aspirations to own a gym, as “fearless” and a “free spirit”.

“She was a different animal to home and outside, at home, she was a normal teenager, but outside she was the leader of the pack,” Mr Johnson said.

“She was so headstrong, at the age of eight she wanted to walk to school on her own.

“With her friends, she was the glue that held everybody together.”

“We can’t leave her now, because this is where she is.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our thoughts remain with Phoebe Johnson’s family and friends.

“We are committed to improving support for victims.

“Our Victims’ Bill will improve support for victims at every stage of the process and place greater accountability on criminal justice agencies for the service they provide to them.

“We are also quadrupling funding for vital support services to ensure victims can always access the help they need.”