The PPS are considering an appeal against a three-and-a-half year jail sentence imposed on a drunken killer driver, after revealing it had received letters from outraged members of the public.
The father of 18-year-old victim Enda Dolan has spoken to the News Letter about how his family are coping with the grief, and heaped fresh condemnation on the sentence handed down to the driver – something he branded an “insult”.
Peter Dolan questioned how the judge (Judge Gordon Kerr QC) could conclude that the driver did not deserve the maximum allowable sentence for killing his son.
A seven-year tariff had been imposed upon David Lee Stewart on Wednesday – half of which is expected to be served behind bars, with the rest being served on licence.
He has also been barred from driving for five years.
He struck Enda with his white van as the student was walking along the Malone Road in Belfast in the early hours of October 15, 2014, before trying to flee the scene and crashing.
Before getting behind the wheel Stewart, 31 and from Grays Park Avenue in south Belfast, had consumed at least 13 drinks. Drugs including cocaine were also found in his system.
The maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years.
The PPS said on Thursday: “The PPS can confirm that we have received correspondence outlining concerns over the sentences passed in this case. The matters raised will be examined carefully in line with our protocols around unduly lenient sentences in the Crown Court.”
It is ultimately the PPS’ own decision to take forward an appeal, but the views of the Dolan family will also be taken into account beforehand.
Enda’s family had already issued a statement expressing dismay at the sentencing.
Early on Thursday afternoon, Enda’s father Peter had told the News Letter that the family had not made up their minds whether to press for an appeal or not, and were simply “still trying to get to grips with the sentencing and what happened... we haven’t fully looked at all our options”.
Asked what he felt the sentence should have been for the driver, Mr Dolan, from Omagh, said: “My question is, what does one need to do to get 14 years? This guy has killed, and pleaded guilty.
“Was three times over the limit. Drugs in his system... Something’s not right.”
Asked if he would have been satisfied by a 14-year sentence, he said: “Satisfied wouldn’t be the word I would use. Nothing is going to change our situation.
“Enda’s not physically with us. He’s not coming home. We can’t change that, and nothing anybody ever does or says will change that.
“However, if the individual was getting 14 years – the maximum sentence – that’d give you a wee bit of sort of hope, or a bit of satisfaction.”
In addition to death by dangerous driving, Stewart had pleading guilty to four other offences over the incident, whilst his passenger William Ross Casement – 21 and from Belvoir Drive, not far from Stewart – was given 50 hours community service and two years’ probation after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting both dangerous driving, and failing to stop at the scene.
Mr Dolan added: “What’s that about? 50 hours community service? Let us, his family, decide on the community service. That’d be an interesting one.”
Asked what tasks he would decide upon, Mr Dolan said: “I’ve no idea. But I’ll tell you what. He’d know about it.”
Mr Dolan, 49, said his family (consisting of four remaining children aged from seven to 17, plus wife Niamh who has now been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder) had received no assistance.
One of the children, Andrew, was celebrating his 10th birthday on Thursday.
He added: “There’s a guy in prison now, serving three-and-a-half years. He’ll get all the counselling that he needs... What counselling have we been offered? And what help have we been offered? Absolutely nothing. And that is the problem.”
He said families in his position should be automatically offered counselling.
Mr Dolan added: “Obviously there’s tears nearly every day. It’s just a matter of trying to deal with that. And you’re also dealing with your own emotions, as well as the kids, you know...
“The weeks and the months ahead are not going to be easy – but they haven’t been easy so far, so nothing’s going to change there from that point of view.
“We just have to deal with it in whatever way we can. We’re lucky enough – we’re a close family, and we’ve good support around us. And we need that.
“I’d like to thank everybody who’s been sending messages of support, and cards. It’s great to receive that support, because sometimes you think you’re on your own and whenever you see that it helps you.”