Co Down hit-and-run driver’s behaviour ‘absolutely disgraceful’

Poulouse Mathai leaving court.
Poulouse Mathai leaving court.

A hit-and-run driver who left a female jogger “lying in a heap in the hedge” with a broken leg has had his eight-month jail sentence reduced to six months, but faced scathing criticism from a judge for his “disgraceful behaviour”.

Jailing 58-year-old Poulouse Mathai at Newtownards County Court, Judge Piers Grant told the Donaghadee man he “deserves absolutely nothing other than the contempt of this court and every right-thinking person”.

Newtownards Court

Newtownards Court

“Your behaviour was absolutely disgraceful and undoubtedly, you deserve a significant custodial sentence,” declared the judge, adding that “if you had been before the Crown Court, as you should have been, you would have received a much longer sentence than this – you should be utterly ashamed of yourself.”

Last Friday at Ards Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Mark Hamill heavily criticised both the defendant for leaving his victim who “could have been dying” and the PPS for not referring the case to the Crown Court where the maximum for causing grievous bodily injury by careless driving is five years as opposed to six months in the lower court.

“I’m amazed that this case is in the magistrates’ court,” declared the judge adding that to strike a pedestrian in a careless driving case “is one thing but to then drive off, that’s completely different, that’s a hit-and-run”.

At an earlier hearing Mathai, from the Killaughey Road in Donaghadee, pleaded guilty to causing Emma McCleery grievous bodily injury by careless driving, failing to detail and failing to remain “knowing an injury had been caused to another person” on October 16 last year.

The court heard then and a prosecuting lawyer repeated on Friday how 45-year-old Mrs McCleery had been wearing fluorescent clothing as she was jogging along the High Bangor Road in Donaghadee at around 8am that morning when Mathai’s car struck her.

While Mathai drove on, she was left “lying in a heap in the hedge” having sustained a broken leg and dislocated foot.

Although Mrs McCleery was hidden from view, a passing driver and his daughter spotted her and stopped to give assistance, and it was then the emergency services were summonsed and Mrs McCleery taken to hospital.

Meanwhile, around half an hour after the impact, Mathai himself called the police to tell them what had happened.

Defence barrister Chris Holmes conceded that Mathai’s behaviour in the immediate aftermath of the impact was shameful and that he “cannot resile” from the fact that he left her lying injured in a hedge, but he added that since then, Mathai had “done all he could” in that he had pleaded guilty as soon as he could, had expressed genuine remorse and shame and was fully insured so his victim would be compensated.

In his appeal submissions Mr Holmes highlighted the fact that Judge Hamill had made the sentences consecutive when guidelines suggested that if offences arise from the one incident, they should be concurrent, although he conceded that Mathai driving off “is the evil in this case.”

Judge Grant told the lawyer, however, it was not just evil but was a serious “aggravating factor”.

Turning to the three-year driving ban, Judge Grant said it was “with considerable hesitation” that he was not going to interfere with that order, telling a shocked-looking Mathai that he “should consider himself extremely lucky” to only get a six-month jail term.