Senior NHS manager who caused the death of young motorcyclist escapes jail term

​A senior NHS manager who caused the death of a young motorcyclist who had recently become a father escaped going to jail today but was instead handed an enhanced combination order.
Matthew Arnold and his wife Ciara on their wedding dayMatthew Arnold and his wife Ciara on their wedding day
Matthew Arnold and his wife Ciara on their wedding day

Judge Gordon Kerr KC told Monica McAlister, the assistant director for old peoples services in the Southern Health Trust, that she “chose to prioritise a work related call over performing a potentially dangerous manoeuvre safely.”

The Newry Crown Court judge said while an eight month jail sentence was justified, as the sentence was below 12 months he was duty bound to consider the imposition of an enhanced combination order as a “direct alternative to custody.”

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Judge Kerr told former nurse McAlister given her early guilty plea, her clear remorse, her “excellent work record” and background and the fact that the family of Matthew Arnold have stated they “hold no hatred in our hearts for her,” the justice of the case could be met with 50 hours of community service and a 12 month probation order.

McAlister, from the Ballykilbeg Road in Downpatrick, had earlier entered a guilty plea to causing the death of Matthew Arnold on 7 April 2020 by driving carelessly on the Lurgan Road in Dromore.

Mr Arnold was just 24-years-old, had been married for 18 months and had just become a father three weeks before the fatal collision which claimed his life and during his sentencing remarks today Judge Kerr said victim impact statements from Mr Arnold’s mother Phylis and wife Claire where they spoke of the pain and devastation of his tragic death.

“Our world has been devastated when Matthew was called to heaven,” wrote his grieving mum, “he was the jewel in the Arnold crown.”

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The judge said the ladies spoke of their faith, the strength they derive from it and how they hold “no hatred” towards McAlister with Phylis Arnold writing that she “truly feels that for her to live with the consequences will be enough of a sentence for her to live with” and his widow Claire emphasising that “she didn’t intend to do what she did - I cannot imagine what the last three and a half years have done to her.”

“I do pray for her and hope that she is OK as I’m certain that she’s not a bad person and never intended to do what she did,” said Claire in her statement.

Turning to the facts of the case, the judge outlined how the fatal accident occurred at the junction of the Lurgan Road and the Blackskull Road when the Toyota Avensis being driving by the defendant pulled out from a junction into the path of the oncoming Ducati motorbike being driven by Mr Arnold.

The 24-year-old was thrown from the bike, coming to rest on the grass verge and despite an off-duty GP and other members of the pubic coming to his immediate aid, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Catastrophic head injuries was established as the cause of death and Mr Arnold was “likely to have sustained rapid death and never regained consciousness.”

McAlister told police that approaching the give way junction she had slowed down, had seen the bike and believed she had enough time to turn right but when she looked again, the motorbike was closer than she expected and she then “felt a shunt,” her airbag deployed and her car came to a stop.

The police investigation established the defendant had been using her mobile phone during a 56 second call in the lead up to the fatal impact.

She told police how she had been expecting a work related call to arrange PPE for care homes in the Trust area so she “wedged” her phone into the dashboard, swiped to answer the call and then put her hand “immediately back on the steering wheel.”

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Judge Kerr told the court that in assessing the range of sentencing he had to assess the standard of driving and “the danger that could foreseeably” be envisaged.

He explained that from his point of view, “she chose to prioritise a call over performing a potentially dangerous manoeuvre safely” but whether she committed an offence in taking the call is immaterial.

“The issue is having seen the motorcyclist as she confirms she did, she should have stopped to take the time to be sure of it’s position and speed before turning into the main road,” said the judge adding that “the conclusion in the case is that she did not.”

“Her driving was very poor and I confirm that a sentence of imprisonment is appropriate,” he told the court.

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Taking a starting point of 15 months, Judge Kerr said outlined the “considerable mitigation in the case” which decreased the sentence to nine months and therefore engaged his obligations to consider an ECO.

Imposing the order he warned McAlister that any failure to complete any aspect of the order or any breach, despite the fact that she poses a low risk of reoffending, would see her being brought back to court and likely sentenced to that nine month prison term.

In addition, he also imposed a 12 month driving ban.