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Senseless death that shocked a nation into action; DATELINE January 6, 1993... schoolgirl killed by driver in a stolen car - She was barely 13 when she was mown down by a car thief and killed. Mercury columnist JOHN PLIMMER recalls how the senseless death of Donna Cooper shocked the nation and had far-reaching consequences for us all.


IT was a cold but bright sunny January day in 1993 when the West Midland community of Pelsall was ripped apart by an explosion of anger and emotion.

Donna Cooper, a 13 year-old local schoolgirl, was callously run down and killed by the driver of a stolen car - one of many so-called joyriders plaguing the country,

There appeared to be an epidemic of youngsters stealing fast cars and bombing up and down British highways as if their life depended upon making other people's lives a misery.

But the Donna Cooper tragedy created a national outrage. Newspapers dropped the tag 'joyriders' and the Home Secretary of the day steered through changes in the law.

Donna's school was situated on the main Pelsall Road, directly opposite her family home in Walsall.

She decided to buy a birthday card for her brother during the lunchbreak and stood on the pavement outside the school gates, waiting patiently to cross the busy road.

Carl Sherwood was a 17 year-old youth who believed that stealing cars and driving them at fast speeds impressed those around him. He'd already stolen a red Ford Escort XR3, and was displaying his driving skills to front seat passenger Nigel Button, a 24 year-old mate. There were three younger kids sitting in the back, the youngest a 12 year-old lad.


As Donna stepped off the pavement, Sherwood steered the car along Pelsall Lane at 80 mph towards a narrow bridge that was situated a few hundred yards from the school.

Sherwood came from nowhere and hit the girl full on, catapulting her onto the bonnet and causing a large dent in the roof just above the front windscreen where her head crashed into the car.

Donna was carried on the car for some 150 yards before being dumped into the gutter.

No evidence could be found of the vehicle slowing down. Witnesses later told police they had seen the driver and his front passenger laughing, and at one point a pedestrian was subjected to verbal abuse.

Donna regained consciousness but died before being carried into the ambulance.

So ended the life of a healthy and innocent girl, who had been taken from a loving family in the most despicable and shocking way.

Donna's mother, Jenny, had heard the commotion outside her home and decided to walk down Pelsall Lane where a crowd of people had gathered.

Mrs Cooper saw the police cars and ambulance, and then recognised one of her daughter's shoes lying in the roadside. The shock she must have felt at that moment is unimaginable.

The stolen vehicle was quickly recovered and Sherwood was later charged with manslaughter. Within hours, the Cooper's home became the focus of newspaper, radio and television reporters.

I remember how Jenny steeled herself before courageously sitting in front of the television lights and a barrage of microphones that confronted her.

The grieving mother had a job to do on behalf of her lost daughter and was determined to express her feelings about the kind of people who had taken her Donna's life so needlessly.

A subdued atmosphere seemed to envelop the room as the proud but tearful mother made her emotional statements.

Jenny's words had a major impact and she made appeals for stronger sentences and more protection against the imbeciles taking lives in exchange for kicks.

Her campaign proved popular and the result was the presentation of a petition to Downing Street leading to sentences for vehicle crime increasing from two to 10 years.

National newspapers declared that they would drop the 'joyriders' tag and replace it with 'scum' and 'monsters'.

Later, one of the problems facing the police was how to deal with the real victims of the tragedy - Donna's parents.

Jenny Cooper wanted to know every detail connected with her daughter's death, even if deeply upsetting.

The senior detective knew that much of the information would cause more distress, but complied with the mother's wishes.

He decided it would be far better for Donna's parents to face the trauma of what had happened in the privacy of his office, rather than hear it for the first time at the forthcoming trial.

A counselling strategy was devised and, during the following few months, Jenny and Bob Cooper attended a meeting with the same senior detectives every fortnight.

At each meeting small pieces of information were disclosed and video footage of the scene used to explain exactly what had happened to Donna. On occasions, emotions ran high but the objective of the exercise was achieved.

Carl Sherwood, who himself lived in Walsall, was eventually convicted of the manslaughter of Donna Cooper and sentenced to a total of seven years imprisonment at Stafford Crown Court, following a guilty plea.

The community of Pelsall will never forget the horror and senselessness of how Donna Cooper was lost to such a normal, loving family.

John Plimmer is a former Detective Superintendent and head of Walsall CID. Over 30 years he has investigated many of the biggest murder cases and major crimes in the Midlands.


HAPPY DAYS... Donna and her mum Jenny smile together OUTRAGE... schoolgirl Donna Cooper and her killer Carl Sherwood
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 25, 2002
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