A father whose son was killed by a drunk driver in Belfast three years ago has welcomed stiffer sentences being unveiled in England and Scotland, in the wake of a UK-wide newspaper campaign in which the News Letter participated.
Peter Dolan, from Killyclogher in Co Tyrone, was speaking to the News Letter only hours before he was to attend a special anniversary mass marking the third year since his son was killed.
Enda Dolan, 18, died three years ago yesterday, October 15, as he was walking along a footpath in Belfast. A speeding van mounted the kerb and struck the first year Queen’s University student on the Malone Road in Belfast.
David Stewart, of Gray’s Park Avenue in Belfast, who had consumed drink and drugs, drove with the teenager on the roof of his van for 800 yards. He is to serve only four and a half years in jail.
Johnston Press newspapers, including the News Letter and the ‘i’, ran a ‘Drive for Justice’ campaign last year with Enda’s father Peter, and many others, calling for stiffer sentencing.
A Johnston Press petition signed by readers across Northern Ireland and the rest of UK was handed into the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Today the MoJ in London announces that it is to introduce stiffer sentencing options for England and Scotland.
Justice Minister Dominic Raab said: “We’ve taken a long hard look at driving sentences and we received 9,000 submissions to our consultation.
“Based on the seriousness of the worst cases, the anguish of the victims’ families and maximum penalties for other serious offences such as manslaughter, we intend to introduce life sentences of imprisonment for those who wreck lives by driving dangerously, drunk or high on drugs.”
The maximum penalty is to be increased from 14 years to life for causing death by:
• Dangerous driving
• Careless driving, under the influence of drink or drugs
• Speeding, racing, or using a mobile phone
• A new offence will also be created for causing serious injury by careless driving.
Mr Dolan took great heart from the fact that stories and signatures from Northern Ireland had played a part in the change.
“This is very positive news,” he said. “We have been campaigning for this for a number of years.
“We know the sentencing review in Northern Ireland is ongoing.
“It is important that the lessons learned through this process across the water are taken into consideration here too.”
The Stormont Department of Justice confirmed that an 18-month sentencing review began here in April.
“The department has established a team to undertake the review and advance work to the consultation stage, at which point ministerial approval will be required,” it said. “Recommendations arising out of the review will be subject to public consultation.”
The News Letter broke the MoJ news to Mr Dolan on Friday, only hours before his family were to attend an anniversary mass for Enda.
In Killyclogher on Saturday his family took part in the seventh sponsored run they have organised in honour of the keen cross country runner. Funds raised will go towards supporting a local school.
“We tried to time the run for this time to take our minds off everything,” Peter said. “It is the third anniversary. The week leading up to it and the week afterwards are particularly difficult.
“We need to shout and get our local guys [MLAs] into action. If Stormont is up and running again it should make improving the sentencing much easier.”
Tommy Holland of Belfast group Families Bereaved by Car Crime said: “We hope these strong sentences will be carried over into Northern Ireland; in the past death drivers have been able to use being either drunk or under the influence of drugs as an excuse for killing our loved ones.”
Freedom of Information requests by the Johnston Press Investigations Team last year found that:
• 369 people convicted of killing or grievously injuring others on Northern Ireland roads walked free from court in the last six years, with nobody being given the maximum 10-14 years sentence.
• Since 2009 not one of the 28 people convicted of death by dangerous driving has been handed the maximum penalty of 10-14 years in Northern Ireland.
• Of the 24 people jailed for the most serious driving crime on the statute book, well over half – 14 – were given between three years and less than 12 months in jail.