Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Boat tragedy sentencing was too light: MLA

Stuart Wilson (6) died after Damien McCann's speedboat struck him at a beach in Co Down
Stuart Wilson (6) died after Damien McCann's speedboat struck him at a beach in Co Down

A man who was handed a suspended sentence for the manslaughter of a six-year-old boy got off "too lightly", it has been claimed.

South Down MLA Jim Wells slammed a nine-month suspended sentence handed down to Damien McCann.

McCann, a scaffolding contractor from Sandy Hill in Newry, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of little Stuart Wilson, after the speedboat which McCann was steering was involved in a collision on a sunny August bank holiday three years ago.

The court heard that the 37-year-old had been travelling in a speedboat off Cranfield beach, Co Down,with his daughters when it came into close proximity with another speedboat towing Stuart Wilson, who was wake-boarding.

McCann's boat collided with either the tow rope or the little boy, the court was told.

Judge Kevin Finnegan said he had given McCann "significant credit" for his guilty plea and his expression of remorse.

The defendant had accepted that the trim setting of his boat caused the boat to be raised, obstructing his view, he added.

"The defendant did not see the deceased," he said.

Speed was not a factor in the case, the court heard.

McCann was sentenced to nine months in jail, suspended for three years

Jim Wells, who sits on the Assembly's Justice Committee, slammed the sentence as "too light". He said: "I was at the funeral. It devastated the entire Rathfriland community – and as I got to know about the little lad and his parents, I realised we had been robbed of a lovely little boy."

He said he was aware of the impact the little boy's death had on the defendant.

But he added: "It was too light. It was a dreadful accident... a truly, truly dreadful event, but I do not believe the sentence has actually reflected the seriousness of what happened.

"I think the Rathfriland community were expecting a bit more."

North Down MLA Alex Easton, who also sits on the Justice Committee, said he was "surprised" at the judge's decision.

"When you look at similar incidents caused in car deaths... they seem to be somewhat stiffer," he said.

"One has to question why the difference between the offences on the water and on the road."

'Nothing can bring him back, but he is always in our thoughts'

By Anna Maguire

"This is the saddest case I have come across."

Those were the poignant words of Judge Kevin Finnegan yesterday.

He was speaking at the sentencing of scaffolding contractor Damien McCann, who had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of six-year-old Stuart Wilson.

The Rathfriland schoolboy was being towed on a wakeboard when McCann's speedboat struck him during a beautiful sunny bank holiday in August 2010.

He suffered serious head injuries, passing away days later.

On August 30, 2010, the Wilson family had been holidaying at the Shanlieve caravan park, which is close to Cranfield Beach.

Newry Crown Court heard that 37-year-old Damien McCann, from Sandy Hill in Newry, decided to take advantage of the bank holiday to head to the Co Down beach with his family.

At around 4.30pm, Stuart was wakeboarding behind a family friend's speedboat, in which his sister Hannah was also travelling.

Damien McCann and his two daughters were riding in another speedboat, which he intended to take out to a lighthouse before turning back towards the shore.

But the bow of McCann's boat was raised too high because its trim was not correct, obstructing his view, Judge Finnegan said.

When his speedboat came near the boat that was towing Stuart Wilson, McCann did not see the little boy.

"By the time the defendant saw (the other) boat, which had right of way, (he) was able to avoid the boat but not the deceased," Judge Finnegan told the court. "The defendant did not see the deceased.

"The defendant made admissions from the outset that he had not seen (the other) boat prior to the collision."

Judge Finnegan said that the nightmare of a family losing a child in such a way would remain with McCann to the grave, whose remorse he described as "genuine".

"I have given him (McCann) significant credit for his plea of guilty.

"I have also given him credit for his remorse," Judge Finnegan said – handing down a nine-month suspended sentence.

Stuart Wilson's family declined to comment following the outcome of the case.

They spoke only of their "relief and sadness" following the sentencing.

"Stuart will always be in our thoughts," the little boy's parents, Gary and Heather, their two daughters and son said in a joint statement.

The little boy, who loved football, was described as "outgoing".

He is "gone but not forgotten," they added.

Stuart Wilson's family appealed to the authorities to support the sea rescue authority's call for stricter laws in the wake of the case's conclusion.

"Nothing can bring Stuart back to us, but we hope now that the proper authorities will study the legislation and regulations around maritime activity and support the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency's call for stricter legislation," the family said.

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