Tuesday 20 March 2018

Ireland's worst ever road tragedy: verdict of unlawful killing returned in tragic crash where eight men died

The car in which seven men died is removed from the scene near Clonmany in Donegal. Photo: Margaret McLoughlin
The car in which seven men died is removed from the scene near Clonmany in Donegal. Photo: Margaret McLoughlin
Shaun Kelly. Photo: PA

Greg Harkin

A jury has returned a verdict of unlawful killing in the case of eight men who died in Ireland’s worst ever road incident.

After three days of often fractious proceedings in which the man responsible had denied causing the crash despite pleading guilty, the jury reached its verdict late this evening.

The men died in the crash on the night of the world cup final on July 11, 2010 on the main R238 Buncrana to Clonmany road at Dumfries.

Shaun Kelly (27) from Hill Road in Buncrana, is serving an eight year sentence after pleading guilty to causing the deaths by dangerous driving of seven friends and a pensioner.

His original four year sentence handed down by at Letterkenny Circuit Court was doubled by the Court of Appeal.

The jury said each of the men died from injuries caused by a road traffic collision and were “unlawfully killed consistent with dangerous driving”.

Shaun Kelly. Photo: PA
Shaun Kelly. Photo: PA

Coroner Dr John Madden told the families that if they had been looking for all the answers on the death of their loved ones, the coroner's court was never going to be the place for that to happen.

“This was the most difficult and stressful inquest I have ever been involved in. It is the worst thing any parent can do to bury their own child,” said Dr Madden.

“All of these people were taken too soon. I know this has been an issue but you know that if you want all the answers then the inquest wasn’t going to do that.”

Dr Madden said ten people could have died on the night.

“It shocked Ireland and it shocked the world,” he said.

“This will not solve anything for the families but I hope there is one less hurdle in the rest of your lives.”

Garda Inspector David Murphy said he knew some of the victims, and passed his sympathies to the families and his thanks to all the emergency services.

He said gardai acted with compassion throughout the investigation.

“It is the worst crash in the history of the State and I sincerely hope it is the worst crash forever,” he said.

The inquest was beset by arguments over the admission of a separate engineer’s report commissioned by Kelly for his criminal case.

A garda expert told the court this evening at the Inishowen Gateway Hotel that a woman whose car was struck by Kelly’s VW Passat was 90cm on her own side of the road on impact.

Gda Kevin Giles had also met the families for more than an hour to go through his report before giving evidence.

He told the court that he believed Kelly’s car hit Mrs McGilloway’s Renault Megane before veering at a 90 degree angle and skidding 44 metres down the wrong side of the road and into a car being driven by 66-year-old Hugh Friel.

Kelly’s friends who died in his car were Eamon McDaid, 22 of Ballymagan, Buncrana; Mark McLaughlin (21) of Ballinahone, Fahan; Paul Doherty (19), of Ardagh, Ballyliffin; Ciaran Sweeney (19), of Ballyliffin; PJ McLaughlin (21), of Rockstown, Burnfoot; James McEleney (23), of Meenaduff, Clonmany and Damien McLaughlin (21), of Umricam, Buncrana.

During the hearing today Peter Nolan, barrister for Kelly, clashed with solicitor Frank Doran, acting for Mrs Anne McGilloway whose car was initially hit by Kelly’s car.

An engineer’s report prepared for Kelly’s defence was ruled inadmissable by the coroner Dr John Madden.

Mr Nolan wanted to ask Supt Kevin English, who headed the investigation and who is now based in Carrick-on-Shannon, questions relating to Mrs McGilloway’s car and her evidence on Thursday.

Mr Nolan said Mrs McGilloway had told the inquest she hadn’t used her brake at the time of the crash but that a report by a Renault engineer from France had concluded that she had done.

Mr Dorrian interjected to complain that Shaun Kelly’s lawyer was “attempting to use this forum to suggest somone other than his client was responsible for the deaths of eight people”.

Stephen Byrne, barrister for the Garda Commissioner, made numerous objections to the line of questioning, insisting some of the questions from Kelly’s legal team were outside the scope of a coroner’s inquest.

Mr Byrne said the questioning was “a device to attack my clients on the manner in which this criminal investigation was carried out in unprecedented circumstances”.

Mr Nolan said however said that was not the case.

“I am merely highlighting a discrepancy between Mrs McGilloway saying she didn’t brake but a Renault expert saying that she did,” he said.

Gda Giles said in his evidence that a mark on the road was caused by a ball-joint after the Renault lost its front wheel and this was 90cm on Mrs McGilloway’s side of the road.

However Mr Nolan argued that this would have put the Renault slightly on the wrong side of the road if the wheel and wheel arch had been included in the measurement.

Coroner Dr Madden refused to allow a number of questions.

He told relatives of the men who died that he would allow a garda report on the incident to be heard by the jury despite an objection by Mr Nolan.

“When Shaun Kelly pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, on that day Shaun Kelly took off his legal suit of armour,” said Dr Madden.

However Eamonn Sweeney, whose son Ciaran died in the crash, said he wanted it put on record how his family felt.

“I am extremely disappointed that both reports are not being admitted into evidence. We came here to find out as much as possible, to find out how our son died, the circumstances of how he died and it is quite apparent from the start that is not happening at this inquest,” he said.

Thursday’s proceedings heard that the car being driven by Mrs McGilloway had a defective headling and a bald tyre.

Supt English was asked who took the decision not to prosecute Mrs McGilloway.

The senior garda however said that he had overseen the investigation and prepared a book of evidence for the Director of Public Prosecutions and any decision was taken by the DPP.

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