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Anguish of Philippa Reynolds' family as guilty man is freed to reoffend

By David Young and George Jackson

Published 09/05/2015

Philippa in a much-loved family photo
Philippa in a much-loved family photo
Philippa Reynolds (centre) with her sisters Debra Reynolds (left) and Nicola McDonald
Philippa on her graduation day at Queen’s with parents Dorothy and Mervyn
Conor Clarence

The father of tragic policewoman Philippa Reynolds, who died when thugs rammed her car, only found out from a friend that one of the men involved was back in court.

Mervyn Reynolds had no official notification that Conor Clarence (25), sentenced to 21 months in jail over Phillipa's death in 2013, had been arrested and was facing drugs charges.

He said the news Clarence was again breaking the law brought back all the anguish over her death.

"We all still hurt," said Mr Reynolds, speaking in the kitchen of the family home in rural south Antrim, where the walls are lined with photographs and memories of Philippa - at school, at university and in her working life.

There are even more pictures along the staircase in the neat dormer bungalow set off a country lane, and mementos scattered throughout the house.

Mr Reynolds said one of his two surviving daughters found out Clarence was back breaking the law in an even more impersonal manner - through Facebook.

Clarence was jailed last year after he pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing a 4x4 car and guilty to a charge of allowing himself to be carried as a passenger in a stolen vehicle.

The car was driven at speeds of up to 80mph in the Waterside area of Derry before it slammed into an unmarked police car in the early hours of February 9, 2013.

Constable Reynolds (27), who was a rear-seat passenger in the patrol car, was killed instantly following the impact.

As well as being jailed for 21 months for the offences, Clarence was also released on licence for 21 months. He was freed after serving just half his sentence.

The driver of the car that killed Philippa was Shane Christopher Frane (27). He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and will only be considered for release by the Northern Ireland Parole Commission after he has served a minimum of six years in jail.

Both men were high on drink and drugs when they stole the Toyota Landcruiser.

A judge at their trial labelled them "cowards" as they fled the scene afterwards.

Yesterday Judge Peter King fined Clarence, who has 51 previous criminal convictions - three of them for drugs offences - £500 and ordered the destruction of the drugs found on him.

The matter of his licence has also been referred back to the Department of Justice.

Speaking last night after the judgment, Mr Reynolds said: "As a parent who has lost a daughter, I feel that this man was part of the criminal escapade that ended with her losing her life, but nothing can ever bring Philippa back."

Asked if he felt Clarence should now be returned to prison, Mr Reynolds said: "I don't want to be vindictive - but if he isn't showing any improvement in his behaviour, the legal system should take its course.

"If they decide to revoke his licence, well and good."

Displaying a remarkable degree of stoicism in the face of his family tragedy, Mr Reynolds said: "The pain never leaves you. But you just have to get on with life.

"Ultimately, there's nothing we can do. The sentence is the sentence. It's just the court system we have. If you plead guilty, you get 20% off to start with, as a reward for saving the time of a jury trial. And then you can be let out of prison on licence after serving 50% of your sentence," said Mr Reynolds.

Asked if he thought his family had received justice for Philippa, Mr Reynolds said:

"What is justice? What is justice? The pain never goes away. None of us will ever get over it."

The Police Federation said it could not comment on court proceedings.

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