CAMPAIGN: ‘Motorist who killed our son drove on to party’

Liz and Martin Gallagher, pictured with a photo of their son, Martin, who was killed in a hit and run accident on the Racecourse Road at Hallowe'en last year. 1911JM18

Liz and Martin Gallagher, pictured with a photo of their son, Martin, who was killed in a hit and run accident on the Racecourse Road at Hallowe'en last year. 1911JM18

The father of young Londonderry man who was killed by a speeding driver has called for much stiffer sentences as a deterrent.

The father of young Londonderry man who was killed by a speeding driver has called for much stiffer sentences as a deterrent.

Martin Gallagher, pictured after completing the London Marathon.

Martin Gallagher, pictured after completing the London Marathon.

Martin Gallagher is speaking out at this time to back the News Letter-Johnston Press UK-wide ‘Drive For Justice’ Campaign, which aims to secure fairer sentences against killer drivers.

Jonathan Francis McGonagle, 23, knocked down his son, also Martin on November 1, 2009.

He then sped from the scene at Racecourse Road in Londonderry.

McGonagle, from Moyola Drive in Shantallow, was given three years in jail and three years on licence and banned from driving for 10 years.

His car hit Martin, 25, so hard that it threw him many feet in the air.

Martin’s father, also Martin, says he and his wife Elizabeth had just gone to bed on Halloween night in 2009 when they heard shouting outside.

Shortly afterwards their eldest son burst into their bedroom, shouting: “He’s dead, he’s dead.”

His wife Elizabeth asked: “Who’s dead?”

Their son replied: “Martin’s dead.”

They went downstairs to find the police in their living room asking them to go and identify the body.

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CLOSED COFFIN

They travelled to the morgue in Belfast.

A young policeman came out of the morgue as they arrived.

“He was as white a ghost and he said to us: If that was my son I wouldn’t go in there” Martin said.

The couple discussed whether they should go in or not.

“Half his face was missing. We didn’t go in and that is one of the reasons that you don’t get closure because we had the coffin in the house but it was closed.

“So you are always wondering if he was in it. You knew he was in it but still, you wonder: was he in it?”

HIT AND RUN DRIVER

The man that killed him drove on to a party afterwards, he added.

The police got the car registration and found the car in the Shantallow area of the city, not too far from the Gallagher’s home.

“He claimed his mother had been driving the car but the police arrested him,” said Martin.

“There was a fella and a girl in the car with him. The girl in the back said she saw Martin crossing the road and shouted – ‘slow down. there’s a man crossing that road’.

“But he just speeded on and didn’t even try to brake.”

His son was about to step onto the footpath when he was hit.

The girl who had been in the back seat gave the police a full statement, which meant that the entire prosecution was completed within a year.

“But to me, what is the difference with that a man going out with a gun?” said Martin.

“If someone had shot Martin they would have got seven years.”

The family pressed the Public Prosecution Service to charge the driver with manslaughter, but to no avail.

Mr Martin said the driver had one of the best barristers in Northern Ireland who was “pushing and pushing” to get him down to two years.

When he was arrested shortly afterwards, he was well over the limit with drink and drugs in his system.

However it could not be proven that he had them in his system at the time of the collision.

Martin’s family was subjected to personal abuse in the street in the run up to the trial, which they declined to engage with.

CHARITY RUNNER

Their son was an electrician by trade did a lot of running for charities such as the local hospice.

He completed the London marathon in 2 hours 46 minutes and did a half Marathon in Omagh in 77 minutes.

“He loved to run. He never smoked but enjoyed a drink at the weekends. He really looked after himself. He had a good personality, he was the life and soul of the party.”

Martin lived at home with his parents and had a girlfriend for several years at the time of his death.

“We never had any bother with him. He hung around with a great crowd of fellas, they were never in bother or anything like that.”

NO REMORSE

The driver never showed any remorse, said Martin.

“He has never apologised or showed remorse. That is the thing that gets to you.”

The loss of Martin had a huge impact on his brother Ryan, who was the youngest in the family, and is now 30.

“Him and Martin would have been close.”

The family watched Ryan very closely after his brother’s death, are much happier since he got married.

His siblings are Michelle, Richard, Ann and Ryan – all of them now grown up.

CAMPAIGN

The family spoke to a range of elected representatives about the sentencing.

They said they were promised sentencing reform at Stormont, but say they are still waiting for change, six years later.

“We weren’t even allowed to speak in court,” Martin added.

The first day of court hearings was on Martin’s birthday, February 2.

“We just felt that nobody wanted to help us, politicians or anyone, you are just left on a limb.

“We didn’t know what to do or where to turn.”

It is too late for them as a family, but he hopes that they can affect some change which will help the next family that may face the same ordeal.

It also hurts the family that McGonagle got a 10 year driving ban – but that the first three years of it were spent while he served his time in jail.

MARRIAGE

“If you hadn’t a strong marriage it would have wrecked it,” said Martin.

The pressure of the tragedy drove Martin to consider suicide.

“What’s it all about – should you end it or what should you do?

“To be honest if you lived on your own and you had no family you would just think there is nothing to live for.”

He believes McGonagle could be capable of repeating the offence.

“That’s just the way it is.

“He showed no remorse. He never ever sent a letter saying he was sorry.”

It was only on the final day of hearings that McGonagle pleaded guilty.

WAY FORWARD

“I would like to get the sentences increased – it would be a bit of closure for us – not helping us but helping the next person. Because just at the minute, nobody wants to know about you or do anything about it.”

A reasonable sentence, he feels, would be “life for life”.

But more realistically he says such drivers should get “at least ten years”.

“He got three years but me and Elizabeth have each got life.”

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