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Drink-driving builder jailed for killing girlfriend

Christopher Harris was three times the drink-drive limit when he hit Laura Biss with his van in January.

A builder who killed his girlfriend by driving into her while drunk has been jailed for seven-and-a-half years.

Christopher Harris, 35, was three times the drink-drive limit and speeding when he hit Laura Biss, 34, as she walked home in the early hours of January 20.

Bristol Crown Court heard Harris drove off from the scene in Highbridge, Somerset – leaving the talented artist fatally injured on the road.

The father-of-three then went looking for Ms Biss at home and at a friend’s house before returning to her property.

He wrote a note there, stating: “I love you but we’re done. Where are you?”

Police arrested Harris for Ms Biss’s manslaughter less than two hours later, after a cyclist discovered her body.

Judge Peter Blair QC, the Recorder of Bristol, jailed Harris for seven years and six months and banned him from driving for four years after his release.

“Laura Biss was 34 when you killed her by the dangerous driving of your van,” the judge told Harris.

“You had been in a short-term relationship with her from about Christmas last year before her life was brought to a terrible and sudden end due to your dangerous driving.”

Ms Biss and Harris had been in an argument on January 19 and both ended up in Vinnies Bar in Burnham-on-Sea, where she worked, that evening.

Friends said Ms Biss was planning to end the relationship but the pair appeared to have reconciled before she left to go home.

There can be no possible doubt to you that you had drunk far too much to drive. Judge Peter Blair QC

“Laura who presumably had arrived in her own car made the proper decision not to drink and drive,” the judge told Harris.

“She set off home on foot, which is a distance of about two miles. You had been drinking heavily.

“There can be no possible doubt to you that you had drunk far too much to drive.”

The judge said Harris was “well aware” that drink-driving is a criminal offence as he had been convicted of it 15 years earlier.

People in the pub had challenged Harris about driving that evening, as well as a week earlier when he drove Ms Biss’s car while intoxicated.

Harris set off in his white Vauxhall van after being escorted out of the pub due to his behaviour and was seen driving erratically both before and after the collision.

CCTV cameras show Ms Biss walking down Burnham Road at 2.05am, with Harris’s van seen on the same stretch a few minutes later – when the collision happened.

Footage shows Harris driving towards Ms Biss’s home at 2.08am. He drove to a friend’s house where he shouted “Laura” and appeared to be looking for her.

He then retraced his steps back to Ms Biss’s home, where he was arrested at 4am.

The roads had a speed limit of 30mph and analysis shows Harris was driving at 38-41mph before the collision and 41-48mph afterwards.

A blood alcohol test found he had about 268mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood. The drink drive limit is 80mg.

“Your driving was so dangerous that you collided with her and the result was devastating,” the judge said.

“This involved a deliberate course of driving having consumed substantial amounts of alcohol, leading to gross impairment.”

Harris was charged with Ms Biss’s murder, which he denied. He admitted a separate charge of death by dangerous driving.

Prosecuting, Adam Vaitilingam QC said Harris’s pleas were accepted following a police collision report which did not support the crash being a “deliberate act”.

Ms Biss had been seen walking on the pavement and appeared to be sober and coherent when she set off from the pub at 1.30am.

“About 10 minutes or so later, the defendant was escorted out of the bar because of his behaviour,” Mr Vaitilingam told the court.

“He got into his van and drove off and seemed to be looking for Laura.”

The report by Pc Joseph Sample, of Avon and Somerset Police, found Ms Biss was in the road when she was struck by the van.

“It is obviously speculation but it is a matter we have to consider as to whether she saw the vehicle coming from 100 metres or so off and made her way into the carriageway to attract his attention,” Mr Vaitilingam said.

“She might have been in the centre of the road or to one side of it.

“In the dark clothing she was wearing, it would have been difficult for any driver to have seen her.

“Given the excess speed that the defendant was driving at, there wouldn’t have been long for him to react to her presence in the road.

“He failed to stop when he must have been aware that there had been some type of collision.”

A post-mortem examination found Ms Biss suffered injuries to both of her legs and a fatal injury to her head.

There was extensive damage to the van, including a broken headlamp, smashed windscreen, scratches and dents.

After the collision, Harris drove to the home of one of Ms Biss’s friends and knocked on the door shouting “Laura”, giving the impression he was looking for her.

Officers later found him incoherent and fully dressed in bed at Ms Biss’s home and arrested him for Ms Biss’s manslaughter.

“He asked police what had happened,” Mr Vaitilingam said.

“He said he couldn’t remember getting into the van to drive home and didn’t remember any of the events.”

In February 2003, Harris received a fine after being convicted of drink driving and failing to stop.

Ms Biss’s mother Kate and sister Sarah both read victim impact statements to the court, detailing the devastating effects of her death on their family.

Her mother said: “Mr Harris still has his life and he will be after to pick up the pieces and still be able to see his family.

“He will have everything that has been taken away from me.”

Her sister described Ms Biss as “one of the great loves of my life” and said her world had “collapsed” following the death.

In mitigation, Patrick Mason said his client, from Burnham-on-Sea, was remorseful.

Psychiatrists have said he may never remember what happened that night, Mr Mason added.

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