A drunk driver who knocked down and killed a student before trying to escape should have received a tougher sentence, Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions argued today.
Barra McGrory QC told the Court of Appeal that the seven-year term imposed on David Lee Stewart for causing the death of Enda Dolan in south Belfast was unduly lenient.
The 18-year-old victim, from Co Tyrone, was in his first term studying architecture at Queen’s University when a van struck him on the Malone Road in October 2014.
He had been walking to his student accommodation as the vehicle mounted a footpath and ploughed into him.
Stewart, 31, of Gray’s Park Avenue in Belfast, drove on for several hundred metres with the teenager still on the roof.
He had taken drugs and up to 13 drinks – including six pints of beer and four Jagerbombs – before getting behind the wheel.
Following the fatal collision he drove from the scene before crashing into a lamppost further along the road.
Another man who had been drinking with him was a passenger the van at the time.
Earlier this year Stewart pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and other motoring offences.
Following imposition of the seven-year sentence, half of which is to be served in prison, the Director of Public Prosecutions launched his legal bid to have the term increased.
Members of the Dolan family packed the public gallery as Mr McGrory set out his case in the Court of Appeal.
He told three senior judges, led by the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, that Stewart had received too much discount from the starting point of a 12-year tariff.
He also contended that consecutive terms should have been imposed for two bouts of dangerous driving - before and after hitting the student.
Claiming the sentencing judge “took a wrong turn”, the Director continued: “The cumulative effect of which is to render this sentence so lenient that it fits the description of being unduly lenient.”
He set out how Stewart had been on a “lengthy, sustained drinking bout” before getting into the van.
“At any time from that moment on a lethal accident could have happened,” Mr McGrory insisted.
Witnesses suggested the van was bring driven faster than the 44mph calculated by experts, the court heard.
According to the Director, Stewart’s failure to stop and remain at the scene were further aggravating factors.
“It was done to escape,” he argued.
“The body of Enda Dolan had been dragged for perhaps 0.2 miles; Enda Dolan was struck with such force that his head penetrated the windscreen.”
But Arthur Harvey QC, defending, responded by claiming the trial judge was justified in giving maximum discount in the sentence.
He argued that the term handed down represented a deterrent punishment for a defendant who displayed genuine remorse.
Describing how his client wept as soon as he was brought into custody, Mr Harvey insisted there had been no “manufactured” regret.
Judgment was reserved following submissions.
Sir Declan said: “We have to deal with the legal authorities, but we can’t be totally blind to the tragic circumstances that lie behind this.” ends