Two‑year sentence was 'too lenient' for crash driver who killed eight
Published 17/11/2015 | 02:30
The man jailed over Ireland's worst ever car crash is to be resentenced before Christmas after his prison term was ruled too lenient.
The Court of Appeal said Shaun Kelly (26) of Hill Road, Ballymagan, Buncrana in Co Donegal, effectively had his original sentence "double discounted".
He pleaded guilty at Letterkenny Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing the deaths of eight men on a road between Clonmany and Buncrana on July 11, 2010.
The final two years of the four-year sentence were suspended by Judge John O'Hagan last December. Before the Court of Appeal, a barrister for the Director of Public Prosecutions argued the sentence did not reflect the gravity of Kelly's culpability and the harm caused.
Kelly's lawyer said the sentencing judge had taken all the relevant factors into account, including his culpability, remorse, brain injury, and the nature of the "monumental tragedy" wreaked. But in a 22-page judgment, a three-judge Court of Appeal ruled the sentencing judge "erred" when weighing up the factors involved in the case.
"The court considers that the sentence imposed in the Circuit Court represented a substantial departure from what would be appropriate in such a case, and therefore must be set aside as unduly lenient," said presiding Judge George Birmingham.
Kelly appeared in court for the brief appeal hearing, dressed in an open-necked blue shirt and navy sweater.
Judge Birmingham said the Court of Appeal did not agree with the sentencing judge that Kelly had entered an "early plea", having only pleaded guilty after a jury was sworn in.
Furthermore, the sentencing judge delivered a jail term on the basis that Kelly would be facing a seven-year sentence if he had contested the case, the appeal ruling stated.
Judge Birmingham said a seven-year sentence would only have been a minimum "and a sentence somewhat in excess of that would be more appropriate in that situation".
While there were mitigating circumstances "the double discounting that occurred here from seven years to four years and then from four years to two years was not justified".
The judge said the court took into account Kelly's remorse, that he will have to bear a life-long burden and that a number of victims' families had shown "extraordinary generosity" in asking for him not be sent to jail.
But he noted other families had remained silent and pointed out Kelly's previous conviction for dangerous driving.
"Obviously, this is an appalling case," he said. "The culpability was very high. This was not a case of a single act of dangerous driving, such as taking a bend at too great a speed or overtaking when it was not safe to do so.
"Rather this was a case of sustained dangerous driving. The consequences of the sustained dangerous driving were enormous, involving the greatest loss of life in a road traffic collision in the history of the State."
The judge added the court was anxious a new sentence be handed down as soon as possible. Kelly was entitled to know his fate and the families of victims should not have the case "dragging on" over Christmas. The case will be mentioned on Friday to fix a sentence hearing date. The judge asked for new victim impact statements.