A man who knocked down and killed a teenager while speeding in Belfast has said he is “sorry” after walking free from court with a suspended sentence.
Adele Whiteside (14) was struck by self-confessed killer driver Michael Thomas McDonnell as she crossed Finaghy Road South in Belfast in September 2007.
Yesterday McDonnell (20), from Garnock in Belfast, was handed a prison sentence of 18 months suspended for three years.
There was uproar in the court when friends and family reacted with fury as Crown Court Judge Geoffrey Miller QC handed the term down.
There were calls of “disgrace, absolute disgrace” and “scumbag” launched from the packed public gallery as McDonnell was led away from the dock of court 12.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Adele’s heartbroken mother Shirley Whiteside demanded tougher penalties for killer drivers.
“We are utterly disgusted,” she said.
“The whole family is in bits. We hadn’t been expecting a lot but we certainly weren’t expecting that.
“It isn’t much for a life.”
McDonnell had pleaded guilty to causing her death by dangerous driving before his trial was due to open last September.
He had been travelling at 47mph in a 30mph zone when he struck the schoolgirl as she walked home from a wedding.
Mrs Whiteside said her family’s life had been ruined by the tragedy.
“He (McDonnell) has ruined all our lives,” she said.
“My life is ruined, so is my daughter’s. He took the most precious thing out of our lives.
“I’d have locked him away and thrown away the key. There is no punishment there, nobody is getting justice, it is absolutely atrocious.
“We will never get over it and this sentence is just a big slap in the face for us.
“It has made things even worse for us. The hurt and the pain is indescribable. The whole justice system needs to change, we need people who show proper justice to the victims.”
Speaking last night, McDonnell said he was sorry about the accident but declined to comment further.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“After that there’s nothing more that can be said about it.”
Passing sentence at Belfast Crown Court yesterday, Judge Miller referred to victim impact reports which, he said, “reflect the searing pain and sense of loss” felt by the Whiteside family.
“Nothing that this court can do can turn back the clock and restore a young life cut so tragically short to those to whom she meant most, but it is important that in approaching the task of sentencing the court is aware and mindful of the hurt that has been caused and the wounds that will never heal,” he said.
Judge Miller said there appeared to be no identifiable answer, from the eyewitnesses or the defendant, as to why the accident took place.
The court heard that the road was clear and well lit, McDonnell was sober and there was no evidence that he had taken drugs.
The judge concluded “not without some considerable hesitation” that this was a case where the exceptional circumstances justified a suspended sentence. He also disqualified McDonnell from driving for 10 years.