Couple injured in crash ask for driver to be spared jail

Laganside Courts, Belfast.  Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker 22/5/2013
Laganside Courts, Belfast. Pic: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker 22/5/2013

A Co Armagh man was spared prison on Thursday after a couple he injured during a head-on collision asked a judge not to send him to jail.

Christopher Barnet (64), of Rectory Avenue, Craigavon, had pleaded guilty to two charges of causing grievous bodily injury by careless driving to husband and wife John and Eileen Austin.

During a sentencing hearing at Craigavon Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, Judge Patrick Kinney said he would suspend a nine-month prison sentence on both counts.

He told father-of-three Barnet: “It is to the immense credit of both of the Austins who have expressed the wish that you should not be sent to prison for these offences.”

Judge Kinney said Barnet was driving his Mitsubishi Shogun and trailer along the Derrytrasna Road in Lurgan around 4.45pm on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2013 when the accident happened.

The court heard that it was dusk and dry although the road on the two-way carriageway was wet.

As Barnet approached a left hand bend on the 60mph road, he veered across onto oncoming traffic, hitting the Austin’s Volkswagen Polo car.

“The defendant was on the wrong side of the road and there was no way for the injured party to avoid the collision,’’ said Judge Kinney.

Collision experts who examined the scene and the vehicle said there was no excess speed involved and there were also no defects to Barnet’s Mitsubishi Shogun. There was also no alcohol involved.

The experts said the collision was caused by either a “slight right steer prior to impact or a left steer from the left hand bend 50 metres prior to impact’’.

The judge said Barnet, who has three grandchildren, had a previous clear record and had never been before the courts for any motoring offences after 46 years of driving.

“By his guilty pleas he has taken full responsibility these offences. He knew his victims from the local area, he has apologised to the victims and has shown genuine remorse and regret for his actions.

“This accident was the defendant’s fault and he was guilty of careless driving.’’

Judge Kinney said that it was evident from victim impact statements “the effects this accident and injuries has had on the Austins and on their families’’.

He added: “They will have to carry this burden for the rest of their lives.’’

The judge told Barnet that had he not pleaded guilty and had been found guilty by a jury, “I consider 12 months in custody would have been an appropriate sentence.’’

“Taking into account your guilty plea, I sentence you to nine months in custody concurrent on both counts. I also disqualify you from driving for 12 months.

“I consider there are highly exceptional circumstances in this case and I suspend the nine month sentence for a period of two years.’’

The judge warned Barnet that if he committed any further offences over the next two years, he would be brought back to court and “you will serve the sentence imposed today’’.