The family of a young woman who was “literally” driven to her death say they are sickened after seeing a picture of one of her killers in a hot tub “drinking champagne” less than four hours after being released from prison.
Michael Wheeler pleaded guilty in December 2016 to causing the death of his ex-girlfriend Sophie Taylor, 22, and serious injury to Joshua Deguara by driving dangerously.
Wheeler’s former partner Melissa Pesticcio, 24, pleaded not guilty to the offences but was convicted by a jury following a two-week trial at Cardiff Crown Court in 2017.
He was released last month and hours later posted the celebration photograph on social media.
Sophie’s mum Jackie, who has been campaigning against him being released after only serving half of his sentence, said she felt like her heart has been “ripped out and stamped on” when she saw the picture.
Wheeler received a prison sentence of seven-and-a-half years while Pesticcio received a sentence of six-and-a-half years.
But both have been released less than four years after Sophie’s death in August 2016, and Sophie’s mum, family and friends are devastated.
They are now campaigning for tougher sentences and a petition has already gained nearly 10,000 signatures.
During the trial, the court heard that Sophie, from Llandaff, was duped by manipulating Wheeler who got her to buy a £5,800 motorbike and then dumped her before returning to Pesticcio.
When Sophie asked for the money back, the pair turned on her and used their cars to chase her for three miles through Cardiff before Wheeler rammed her BMW and caused her to crash in the Adamsdown area of the city.
The judge said at the time “it was like a cat chasing its prey” and said they were both “consumed with a self-righteous and jealous rage”. One of the leading detectives in the case said the pair had “literally drove Sophie to her death”.
Prisoners serving determinate sentences spend the first half of the sentence in prison and the second half in the community ‘on licence’. If they break any of the licence conditions, for example by committing another crime, they could go back to prison.
The petition started by Sophie’s family says: “After being charged with death by dangerous driving when they chased the poor girl all around Cardiff and decided to ram her off the road, causing Sophie to have a catastrophic brain injury and Joshua to be in critical condition in hospital which caused him to lose his leg.
“Sophie had her life taken from her and Josh have suffered horrendously throughout this whole ordeal. These should be made to serve their full sentences!! How are they not doing them. It’s so wrong.
“Look at these faces that will be back on our streets with not a care in the world about what they have done. What they have caused so many people….. How are they allowed to be released on our streets again so soon?”
Explaining her upset at seeing the picture of him in the hot tub, Jackie said: “I received a phone call at 3pm from the probation officer to say he had been released and by 6.45pm he was happily posting pictures of himself on Instagram.
“It is an outrage. The pictures are of him drinking champagne in a hot tub so he’s obviously celebrating.
“My other children are all on social media and are in bits after seeing the photo. I have reported him to the probation service and they have said this is totally unacceptable.
“How can this monster be released? He is already living the life while all I have left of my precious Sophie are my photographs, memories and her grave.
“To put something like this out there and share it publicly is extremely insensitive.
“I didn’t even have time to let Sophie’s family and friends know he was out. They started messaging me the picture wondering if he had been released.”
Michael Wheeler had also had a relationship with a prison officer during his time at HMP Parc Prison in Bridgend.
Notes, cards and photographers were found in his cell from prison officer Savannah Dean and the pair had “highly sexualised” phone calls.
Dean, of Weig Road, Swansea, resigned and admitted misconduct in public office by having an inappropriate relationship with a prisoner. She was given a six-month prison sentence in July last year which was suspended for a year.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We understand the release of a prisoner can cause distress to victims, and our thoughts are with Miss Taylor’s family, as well as Mr Deguara and his family.
“Anyone released from prison faces strict conditions while on licence, such as curfews and exclusion zones, and can be returned to custody immediately if they are breached.
“This Government is making the most serious offenders spend longer in prison and will introduce life sentences for those who cause death by dangerous driving.”