Fury at killer driver sentence

Road accident outside Kircubbin in County Down
Road accident outside Kircubbin in County Down

A drink driver who was more than three times over the limit when he killed a former school friend wept in court yesterday as he was jailed for four years.

However, after hearing that 28-year-old Hugh Torney will only serve half that sentence in jail, his victim’s shell-shocked family lambasted the sentence as “stupid”.

Outside Downpatrick Crown Court Martin McKenna, whose sister Danielle was tragically killed as she walked home from the pub, said he was almost speechless at the length of the sentence.

Looking numb, Mr McKenna said: “What can I say, it’s not long enough, it’s stupid. I’m lost for words. The judge might as well give him a bottle of vodka and car keys.”

On the morning his trial was due to start last month Torney, from the Upper Ballygelagh Road, Ardkeen, Kircubbin, pleaded guilty to causing the death of Danielle McKenna by careless driving with excess alcohol, drink driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

Yesterday Judge Piers Grant told Torney, who constantly wiped away tears as he sat in the dock, it was clear “that you will carry a considerable burden for the rest of your life”.

He added it was also clear that Danielle’s family had suffered an “enormous loss” as a result of the tragic accident on June 9 2012, describing their victim impact statement as “very moving, courageous and remarkably devoid of any bitterness”, but that Torney’s denial of any wrongdoing until the last moment had also “greatly affected” them.

Danielle’s father was also visibly upset as the judge recounted his daughter had been drinking with her boyfriend and his sister in Finnegans Bar while Torney, who had gone to school with her when they were children, was drinking in the Mermaid Bar, both in Kircubbin, before he got a taxi home.

It was whilst there, however, that Torney got a call about a party, so despite being drunk, he decided to get behind the wheel of his Volkswagen Bora car.

It was as he drove along the Rowreagh Road that he struck the 26-year-old mother-of-one.

Despite her boyfriend trying to persuade her otherwise Danielle had decided to walk home when she was mown down and killed with Torney callously driving on.

Within a short time, however, he returned to the fatal scene.

Danielle was found lying dead in the hedgerow and the court heard that as a result of the impact, other parts of her body were found in a different area of the hedge.

As well as the four-year jail sentence, Torney was banned from driving for five years.

Judge Grant said that according to expert reports, Torney had been travelling “at no less than 40mph” along the unlit country road and that despite Danielle wearing black, non-reflective clothing, an ambulance had managed to get around her safely just minutes before the fatal impact.

A breathalyser test at the scene gave a reading of 108 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath and with the limit at 35mgs Torney was “slightly in excess of three times the legal limit,” said the judge.

The judge said Danielle, a nursing assistant at the Ulster Hospital, had dreamed of joining the Army “in order to improve her life and the life of her son”.