A cowardly ”gangster’s moll” who fled Britain after killing a policeman’s wife in a drunken car crash was jailed for more than eight years today.
Paula Barnes, 45, spent two years on the run in Holland after being charged with causing death by dangerous driving.
She was more than two and a half times over the drink-drive limit when she smashed her black Audi into a BMW driven by mum-of-two Diane Wright, 49.
The high speed smash in September 2010 came just two months after Barne’s husband David was jailed for 12 years for masterminding a £60 million drug-smuggling ring.
After the crash Barnes was bailed and ‘took the coward’s way out’ by fleeing the country – despite having no passport – on a private plane.
She was finally re-arrested last November following an international manhunt and extradited back to Britain.
She was sentenced to eight years five months behind bars yesterday as a judge said he found it impossible to reconcile her remorse with her two years on the run.
Judge Euan Ambrose told her: “This offence is so serious that only an immediate prison sentence can be justified.
“In my judgment this is a level one case because this is a case in which the consumption of a substantial amount of alcohol lead to a gross impairment of your ability to drive safely.
“This position is made worse because this was a consistent and prolonged course of very bad driving.
“You drove at high speeds, erratically and caused other road drivers to take evasive action.
“There maybe a strong sense of guilt but remorse requires, in my judgment, you to behave in occurrence with that and it is impossible to reconcile your actions with absconding.
“There was no real desire to put things right.”
Swindon Crown Court heard how popular Diane, a special needs assistant teacher at a primary school, was killed instantly in the collision.
Witnesses described her car as being “crushed to the size of a smart car.”
Colin Meeke, prosecuting, said a number of drivers were forced to swerve out of the way as Barnes drove on the wrong side of the road at up to 100mph.
He said: “A number of witnesses speak of extremely poor quality of driving, indeed dangerous driving.
“One witness saw the defendant travelling at speed on the wrong side of the road well in excess of 60mph, she thought it could have been as much as 100mph.”
Barnes, from Baydon, Wilts., drove past three cars, swerving to avoid them at the last minute before she hit Diane.
Barnes was trapped herself and remained in hospital for a number of weeks with numerous injuries including several broken bones.
A back calculation found that she was at least two and a half times over the limit at the time of the collision between Wanborough and Baydon, Wilts.
Experts said she was also doing somewhere between 64 and 72mph on the wrong side of the road.
When interviewed Barnes claimed to have no recollection of the accident but admitted drinking at least two large glasses of wine at lunch time.
Defending, Ian Laurie QC said: “She has had a good life and that brings home all the more the consequences of what she has done.
“Her descent into depression which accompanied her husband’s arrest and 12 year imprisonment left her feeling suicidal and struggling to cope, she resorted to alcohol.
“Her way of coping with the terrible sense of isolation following her husband’s imprisonment, her loss of friends and her idyllic lifestyle, was to drink.
“It was not for one moment a calculated act of aggression by Miss Barnes.”
The courtroom was filled with friends and family of Mrs. Wright, who lived in Wootton Bassett, Wilts.
She was married to Scotland Yard officer David Wright who said the sentence would never be enough for what Barnes had done.
After the case he said: “Fleeing to Holland was a coward’s way out instead of facing up to what she had done.
“Getting eight years and five months will never be enough for what she has done, she has destroyed a family and our future together.
“Because of a stupid mindless act we are now a family of three. Diane was my wife and my best friend, we loved her very deeply, life will not be the same without her.”
Barnes and husband David, 42, had posed as respectable countryfolk in Wiltshire until he exposed as a the leader of a huge drugs ring.
He was jailed with eight accomplices for conspiracy to supply class B drugs following a six-week trial at Bristol Crown Court in July 2010.
They transported cannabis from Holland hidden in trucks carrying flowers and ran the operation from farm buildings in Whittonditch, Wiltshire.
Barnes was jailed for 12 years and ordered to pay back £2.6million or face an extra eight years behind bars.
Inspector Steve Cox, who helped track Barnes down, branded her ‘callous and manipulative’.
After her arrest he said: “Barnes has proved to be a callous and manipulative woman who thought she was above the law.”
In a victim statement after the case Diane Wright’s husband David condemned ‘stupid, drunken, inconsiderate’ Barnes for destroying his dream family.
He said: “Diane was a fantastic wife, friend, mother and work colleague.
“There is not a day goes by without us all thinking of her and no words can express just how much we miss her, other than to say that our lives have been utterly devastated and that we miss her terribly.
“I am a serving Police Sergeant in the Metropolitan Police and have spent 35 years dealing with serious and at time tragic incidents.
“As a consequence I thought myself to be fairly robust. However I have had to take a considerable amount of time off sick and go for counselling as a direct result of this matter.
“My confidence has been affected but I have had to remain strong for the sake of our daughters, despite this, inside I have been falling apart, so much so that I have had to ask for help.
“Our daughter, Lucy, on the day of the accident, was unfortunate to come across the incident and was told by police at the scene that her mum was dead.
“She will have to live with the sight of the mangled wreckage where her mother was killed for the rest of her life,
“I cannot imagine how it must have felt to have to look on helplessly as the emergency services did all they could, standing there at the side of the road with no one to turn to and no should to cry on. It must have been awful.
“We were a typical family of four. We were a team and Diane was the linchpin of everything.
“I shared the majority of my life with Diane and she was my best friend. When she was killed part of me was killed.”
At the time of the accident Diane and David had been married for 22 years and had two daughters.
Tracey, 22, recently graduated with a first class degree in illustration from Plymouth University and Lucy, 19, has just started a geography degree at the same university.
David added: “As well as being my best friend, Diane was such a happy, generous person. She would always be there for me and always support me in what ever I did.
“From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed there is this gaping hole in my life.
“I often wake in my sleep thinking that she is still alive only to turn over in the realisation that she is no longer with me. I miss her and love her dearly.
“I said goodbye to Diane on that Thursday morning and that was the last I would see of her alive. No sentence will ever bring back my lovely wife.
“None of our dreams or aspirations are now possible due to a stupid, drunken, inconsiderate woman.
“I don’t think she will ever learn the true extent of what she has done and the effect she has had on so many people.
“Paula Barnes has killed a wonderful wife and a wonderful mother. I want her to know that, I want her to know that for the rest of my life.”