Deterrent called for as van killer’s sentence attacked

David Lee Stewart
David Lee Stewart

The sentence handed down to a drunk hit-and-run driver will act as little deterrent to other reckless motorists, one politician has suggested.

Omagh councillor Josephine Deehan joined others in voicing dismay at the three-and-a-half-year jail term given to David Lee Stewart, 31.

The independent Omagh councillor (formerly of the SDLP) attends the same chapel as the Dolan family, who were left bereaved when the van driver struck 18-year-old Enda Dolan in Belfast in 2014.

They hail from the Killyclougher area, near Omagh.

Councillor Deehan said: “If a person makes a conscious decision to take charge of a vehicle when they’re incapacitated, they have to be aware of the sentence they will face...

“I think the general consensus would be the sentence was much too lenient. I do respect the decision of the courts, and I’m aware they have to adhere to sentencing guidelines.

“But I think it needs to be reviewed because lives are at stake, and there needs to be a deterrent element.”

Omagh DUP councillor Errol Thompson also spoke out, saying: “Generally the feeling around Omagh with regard to that would be people just do not think it’s a long enough sentence, and the punishment needs to fit the crime.”

Enda Dolan’s father Peter spoke directly to the News Letter this week after Wednesday’s sentencing, dubbing it an “insult” – given that the maximum tariff is 14 years.

When criticism was put to the Lord Chief Justice’s office, a spokesperson responded: “Sentencing in individual cases will depend on the specific circumstances in each case.”

A detailed reading of the judgment from Gordon Kerr QC shows that Stewart (who had taken drugs and consumed at least 13 drinks) was given credit for showing remorse and having no serious prior convictions, plus pleading guilty – though he repeatedly lied to police immediately after being caught.

The PPS is currently mulling over whether to appeal the sentence or not.

It also confirmed that Stewart’s five-year driving ban took effect from this week – meaning that it is possible he could be back on the road again just 18 months after he is released from prison.