Belfast Telegraph

Army wife full of remorse after her careless driving resulted in the death of friend's baby avoids jail

By Michael Donnelly

An Army wife whose careless driving cost the life of a friend's baby daughter on her first birthday wept as she was freed on a suspended one-year jail term and banned from driving for three years.

Antrim Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan told a clearly distressed Natasha Irish that in his 40-year career as a lawyer and 11 as a judge, it was "one of the saddest cases" he had ever heard, or had to deal with.

The judge said it appeared Irish, whose jail term was suspended for three years, was "driving perhaps a little too quickly" for the road conditions, and tragically "made a mistake which cost someone's life".

Judge Marrinan also expressed his heartfelt sorrow to the parents of baby Tyra Herbert, who died on her first birthday on September 24, 2012 following a one-car collision while being driven to her home at the Aldergrove Army base near Crumlin.

Irish, formerly from Crosshill Grove, Aldergrove, had pleaded guilty to causing the youngster's death by driving without due care and attention on Dublin Road, on the outskirts of Antrim.

Baby Tyra died from her injuries in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

The court heard that the tragic irony of what occurred was that Irish was driving Tyra and her mum, and her own child, back to the base after being in Antrim to pick up a cake and other goodies to celebrate the youngster's first birthday.

Judge Marrinan said the death of anyone's child, before their own, whether aged one or 61, was "every parent's secret nightmare", and that the stresses and distress left by the case were both intense and profound, and the case sat uncomfortably in the criminal calendar.

He added while some careless driving cases fell just short of dangerous driving, it was accepted by the prosecution that Irish's case was one where her culpability was at the lowest, although it had "terrible consequences and a very difficult scenario to deal with".

The judge said what occurred has had a "devastating effect" on Irish, who had shown "incredible remorse", and there was nothing he could do "in this case that will help the parents or anyone else in this case... all I can do is apply the law".

Judge Marrinan said it would be ridiculous to put Irish either on probation or on community service, and while her culpability was low, and despite the very serious consequences, it would be "rare enough, in my view" to send someone to prison in such circumstances.

He added that he felt the proper way in dealing with Irish, given her clear record, guilty plea and the effect it has had on her, was to impose a prison sentence, but to suspend the term.

Earlier, prosecuting QC Jackie Orr said that Irish was driving home with her friend and their children in utterly atrocious weather conditions that morning. Ms Orr said there was nothing to indicate what might have caused the tragic accident, both children were being carried in the proper child-restraints and there was absolutely no evidence to suggest Irish had been driving over the national limit of 60mph for the road.

She added it was accepted it was a case of low culpability in which Irish had "a momentary loss of care and attention".

Defence QC Richard Weir said he wanted to make it absolutely clear that nothing he said should distract from the two people most affected by this terrible tragedy, the parents of baby Tyra.

He added that he hoped that "not even in their darkest moments" they would remotely think or believe that on that appalling day Irish had set out to do them or their youngster any harm.

Mr Weir said the consequences of Irish's "momentary aberration" in her driving was knowing she was "instrumental" in causing the death of a child, the worst thing that any parent could contemplate.

This was her sentence, said Mr Weir, and it was far beyond what penalty the court could impose, and she would have to live with it forever.

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