Speeding driver jailed for ploughing into TV film crew

Hugh McGrattan ploughed into the film crew in the Falcon Road/Apollo Road area of south Belfast
Hugh McGrattan ploughed into the film crew in the Falcon Road/Apollo Road area of south Belfast

A Belfast man who ploughed into an RTE film crew in the Boucher area of the city after losing control of his car due to excess speeding has been given a sentence of four years and eight months.

Hugh McGrattan, from Whiterock Drive, will spend half the sentence in jail and half on licence upon his release, after he admitted five counts of causing grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving.

McGrattan – who was driving at speeds up to 69mph in an area limited to 30mph – struck a kerb then collided with a group of around 15 people standing on the footpath.

The collision occurred in the Falcon Road/Apollo Road area on the evening of November 30, 2015, and resulted in five cast and crew members sustaining serious injuries.

As well as being sent to jail, the west Belfast man was also banned from driving for five years.

At the time of the collision, the road was illuminated both by street lighting and lighting from the film crew. In addition, those involved in the documentary were all wearing hi-vis clothing.

During yesterday’s sentencing, Her Honour Judge McCaffrey spoke of the impact the incident has had on those affected, particularly a then-19-year-old who at the time was running her own performing arts and dance business, and who is now in a wheelchair.

Branding her spinal injuries as “life-changing”, Judge McCaffrey revealed that since the incident the woman can no longer carry on her chosen career, and now lives with her mother, who sold her house and bought a bungalow to suit her daughter’s specific needs.

The judge also spoke of the effect it has had on others injured, including a cameraman who couldn’t work for six months, and another male victim who can no longer play sport as a result of his injuries.

Belfast Crown Court heard that while the 25-year-old admitted at the scene he was speeding, he believes the victims also share some responsibility as he feels they should have had signs in the area highlighting their presence.

On the evening in question McGrattan drove past the film crew whilst doing a friend a good deed by showing him where Adelaide train halt was.

It was on the return journey that McGrattan’s silver Skoda Fabia failed to negotiate a bend, causing him to lose control of the vehicle.

All those who saw the incident – which occurred adjacent to the Hovis Bakery entrance – said the car was speeding when it hit a kerb, mounted a footpath then ploughed into a group of around 15 people on the footpath.

One woman said she saw the car drive straight at the pedestrians and said it was “like a bowling ball” when it struck the group, while another said the car was “like a snow plough with people being swept away”.

CCTV footage taken from a nearby train halt camera indicated that at one point, McGrattan was travelling somewhere between 52 and 69mph in a 30mph area.

Judge McCaffrery said that McGrattan’s own admissions at the scene, when he told police he was driving between 55 and 60mph, indicated he was driving up to 100% in excess of the speed limit prior to him losing control of the car.

Regarding McGrattan, Judge McCaffrey said she accepted there were mitigating factors. These included the fact he stayed at the scene and offered assistance to the wounded, that he had displayed remorse and that he had a lack of relevant convictions.

The judge also said that after reading medical reports, she accepted McGrattan’s underlying depression and anxiety would be exacerbated by being sent to prison.

However, after highlighting the gravity of the offence and the impact the collision has had on those affected, Judge McCaffrey said a prison sentence was “appropriate”.