CAMPAIGN: Welcome for life sentence plans for killer drivers

Liz and Martin Gallagher, pictured with a photo of their son, Martin, who was killed in a hit and run incident in Londonderry.
Liz and Martin Gallagher, pictured with a photo of their son, Martin, who was killed in a hit and run incident in Londonderry.

Families who feel the motorists who killed their loved ones got off very lightly have welcomed plans to introduce life sentences for the offence.

The news comes two weeks after a ‘Drive for Justice’ campaign on the issue by the News Letter and sister newspapers right across the UK.

The Ministry of Justice in England has proposed life sentences for death by dangerous driving and careless drivers who kill whilst under the influence of drink or drugs. New, three year jail terms are also proposed for careless drivers who cause serious injury.

The News Letter has found 316 people convicted of killing or grievously injuring others on Northern Ireland roads have walked free from court in the last six years - with nobody being given the maximum 10-14 years sentence. And of the 24 people jailed for death by dangerous driving, well over half - 14 - were given sentences of between only three years and less than 12 months in jail.

Tyrone architect Peter Dolan’s son Enda, 18, died after a drunk driver mounted a kerb in Belfast and hit him in 2014. The driver was jailed for only three and a half years.

“This news is first class,” he said. “The introduction of life sentences is important and is positive and is what we have been striving for in Northern Ireland.” He called on all Northern Ireland polticians and Justice Minister Claire Sugbden to get behind the plans to ensure the changes would be extended to Northern Ireland.

Martin Gallagher, pictured after completing the London Marathon.

Martin Gallagher, pictured after completing the London Marathon.

READ MORE: PETER DOLAN’S STORY

Martin Gallagher’s 25-year-old son, also Martin (pictured), was killed by a speeding driver in 2009 in Londonderry. He was jailed for only three years.

“This is brilliant news,” he said. “It gives you hope that we will get something out of it. Nobody wanted to listen to us before. Nobody would help us. This will give us closure and hopefully it will help those coming after us.”

READ MORE: MARTIN GALLAGHER’S STORY

June Curran’s son Kevin, 17, was killed after getting into a car with a drunk driver in Newtownbutler in 2008. The driver served just 18 weeks in prison.

“This could be pretty good,” she said of the proposals. “It could be the only thing that will stop people from drink driving. It might make them stop and think.”

READ MORE: JUNE CURRAN’S STORY

Likewise Kevin Fitzpatrick from west Belfast lost his wife Dana and son Kevin Daniel to a so-called ‘death driver’ in 2000. The driver served only four years in prison.

He said:“I myself would support this because as I have said before, a car is more dangerous than a knife or a gun whether it is stolen, or driven by a drunk driver. I don’t want anyone else to lose their life on our roads due to some idiot.”

READ MORE: KEVIN FITZPATRICK’S STORY

Tommy Holland of west Belfast group, Families Bereaved by Car Crime also welcomed the news.

“You only have to go on to our FBTCC Facebook site and see the hurt and loss of loved ones caused by death-drivers to see and understand why the families support and welcome this new proposal of tougher sentences for these dangerous criminal drivers; a life sentence for a life, this would also act as a very strong deterrent to the criminal drivers”.

The proposals have been welcomed by road safety charity, Brake, which has long campaigned for justice for families who have lost loved ones because of criminal drivers.

Gary Rae, campaigns director for Brake, said: “This is a vindication of our efforts, and those of victims’ families, calling for change through our Roads to Justice campaign. For too long, the justice system has treated them as second class citizens.”

He added: “At this stage, these are proposals, and we will be giving our full response before the February deadline. We would urge others, especially those directly affected by road deaths, to respond to the consultation.”

London Justice Minister Sam Gyimah outlined the rationale for the changes.

“Killer drivers ruin lives,” he said. “Their actions cause immeasurable pain to families, who must endure tragic, unnecessary losses.

“While impossible to compensate for the death of a loved one, we are determined to make sure the punishment fits the crime.”

The consultation seeks views on whether the current maximum penalties available to the courts should be increased. Proposals include:

:: Increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life.

:: Increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years to life.

:: Creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, with a maximum sentence of three years.

:: Increasing minimum driving bans for those convicted of causing death.

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