A cowardly driver who downed pints of lager before leaving a 10-year-old schoolgirl to die in the road after a fatal hit-and-run collision has been jailed.
Connor Marsden, 24, has been sentenced to seven years and four month behind bars after causing the death of Melissa Tate in Kenton on September 25.
The court was told how Melissa had been playing with friends on the street when she crossed the road and was hit by Marsden as he travelled at high speed in a Renault Kangoo van.
Marsden had been drinking that afternoon and was driving with no licence or insurance when he collided with the youngster on Hillsview Avenue.
And instead of trying to save the life of his innocent victim, the coward continued to drive away before abandoning the vehicle nearby and fleeing on foot in a bid to avoid detection.
Melissa was rushed to hospital by paramedics but sadly died in hospital the next day, despite the heroic efforts of medical staff.
Officers from Northumbria Police’s Motor Patrols Department launched an investigation to identify the driver responsible for taking the schoolgirl’s life.
They conducted extensive house-to-house enquiries, reviewed hours of CCTV and reached out to the community for help before they ultimately identified Marsden as the offender.
Their enquiries also found that Marsden had been drinking alcohol at a nearby social club less than two hours before the collision.
He was located the next day and arrested while hiding at an address in the Durham area in a continued attempt to avoid capture.
Marsden was later charged with a series of offences including causing death by dangerous driving and failing to stop at the scene of the collision.
The 24-year-old, of Hazeldene Avenue, Kenton, pleaded guilty to all counts on his first appearance at Newcastle Crown Court on October 28.
Today (Thursday) he was jailed at the same court while Melissa’s devastated family watched on from the public gallery. He was also handed an eight year four month driving ban.
Speaking after the case, investigating officer Sergeant Ray Lowery praised their bravery and said he hoped the lengthy jail term brought them some comfort.
He said: “This has been a heart-breaking case for Melissa’s family and friends and it is impossible for anyone to comprehend what they have been through.
“Melissa was a young girl with a huge heart with so much left to give to this world. It is tragic that she was taken this way.
“The outpouring of grief and emotion in the aftermath of this collision showed how highly she was thought of and I know that has brought some comfort to her family.
“The investigative team have come to know Melissa's family and what Melissa meant to them. We have genuine admiration for the dignified and honourable way they have conducted themselves in such difficult circumstances.
“I have nothing but praise for them and I hope the fact that Connor Marsden is starting his sentence behind bars gives them a feeling that some justice has been done.
“His actions that day were disgusting. While under the influence of alcohol, he got behind the wheel and then drove at high speeds through busy residential areas.
“The way he was driving that vehicle left Melissa with no chance of survival but rather than face up to his actions he fled like a coward. I find it difficult to imagine anyone leaving a person to die in the road, never mind a 10-year-old child.
“Marsden then spent the following hours trying to cover his tracks and evade justice. It was down to the help of the community and the hard work of our officers that we were able to locate and arrest him hiding in Durham.
“Marsden may have pleaded guilty in court but he offered no apology or any account of his actions that day to Melissa's family.
"I am mindful that no length of sentence will seem enough for indiscriminately taking the life of a child but hope that the sentence passed today brings some peace to Melissa's family and friends.
“He deserves to spend time behind bars and I hope this case sends a strong message to anyone who takes for granted the consequences of such reckless behaviour.”
Marsden admitted a total of seven offences including causing death by dangerous driving, driving with no insurance, driving with no licence, failing to stop, failing to report an accident, causing a death while uninsured and causing a death while driving without a licence.
Melissa was a proud member of Northumbria Police’s Mini Police scheme and a tree will be planted in the Force’s memorial garden next week to honour her memory.
The identification number and card provided to her when she signed up to the scheme as a pupil at Mountfield Primary School have also been retired.