Girvan killing verdict ‘shows why review of sentencing should be priority’

Peter and Niamh Dolan successfully appealed the length of sentence handed down to the man who killed their son Enda
Peter and Niamh Dolan successfully appealed the length of sentence handed down to the man who killed their son Enda

A mother whose son was killed by a drunk driver and who has campaigned for tougher sentencing for years, has described the sentence given to a woman who killed a pensioner as “disgusting”.

Margaret Henderson-McCarroll, 31, was sentenced to six years – three of which will be served in prison – on Monday after she pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of 67-year-old Eddie Girvan who was stabbed, gagged and bound at his Greenisland home in January 2016.

The prosecution accepted her guilty plea to the manslaughter on the grounds of “diminished responsibilty” with the defence arguing that at the time of the killing she was high on drugs.

Niamh Dolan, whose son Enda was killed by a drunk driver while aged just 18 in 2014, described the sentence as “disgusting” and urged authorities to make changes to sentencing across Northern Ireland.

The Dolan family appealed the seven-year sentence given to the driver of the van that killed Enda, successfully having it increased to nine years after being declared “unduly lenient” by a judge in 2016.

The family have sought to have legislation of all “unduly lenient” sentencing legislation in Northern Ireland reviewed, something they believe would apply in the killing of pensioner Eddie Girvan.

Mrs Dolan, referring to the three-year prison term given to Henderson-McCarroll, said: “I thought it was disgusting, that was my first thought whenever I read it — absolutely disgusting.”

She continued: “Going back to our case, I think if you look at the fact that the maximum sentence for drunk drivers who kill, 14 years, has never been used tells you a lot about sentencing here.

“The judges have that ability, to use this sentencing and they don’t do it. I don’t know what the maximum sentencing would be in this particular case but you can be sure it is a lot more than three years.

“The bottom line is that everything favours the perpetrators.”

Her husband, Enda’s father Peter Dolan, said a sentencing review announced by former Justice Minister Claire Sugden in June 2016 should be expedited.

At that time, the then justice minister said: “Sentencing doesn’t just affect the offender. It affects victims, their families and the wider community. It plays a major part in how the criminal justice system as a whole is perceived and impacts on public confidence in the delivery of justice.”

Mr Dolan, speaking to the News Letter, said: “The review of sentencing should be going ahead and it should be going ahead much more quickly than what it appears to be right now.”

Mrs Dolan added: “Claire (Sugden) has been in touch with us this whole time and she has been quite good but the department should still be moving ahead with the review.”

“As for that killing, that was absolutely horrific and for her to only get three years ... if you think of what that person had to endure before he died, and for her to walk out after three years. It’s not right. We really need to have changes made to sentencing here.”

The DUP, meanwhile, says the community in the area where the killing of Mr Girvan took place was “absolutely outraged” at the “leniency” of the sentence given to his killer.

DUP MLA David Hilditch told the News Letter that the sentence has been “met with a mixture of shock and disgust at the leniency”.

He continued: “I have to say I took calls and spoke to people in the area who are absolutely outraged at the news. I and they just can’t believe that such a thing can happen. It’s very concerning.”

His party colleague, Gordon Lyons MLA, has called on the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal.

Mr Lyons said: “This was a brutal attack on Mr Girvan. The judge rightly called it horrific.”

He added: “Sentences like this do not send a clear message to those who are criminals and who seek to destroy life and property. The taking of a life should result in more than just three years in prison. I would urge that the PPS refer this decision to the Court of Appeal so that an appropriate sentence can be imposed and that justice would be done.”

The Northern Ireland Prison Service were unwilling to say whether the three-year prison sentence would include time served on remand.

Henderson-McCarroll has already spent a considerable amount of time in custody since the killing.

The News Letter asked the Lord Chief Justice’s office whether time spent in custody before her trial and sentencing would count towards her overall prison sentence of three years, but were told to direct the query to the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) instead.

An NIPS spokesperson said: “We do not comment on individual prisoners.”