Belfast Telegraph

Belfast driver who mowed down RTE crew jailed for four years and eight months

A Belfast man who ploughed into an RTE film crew in the Boucher area of the city after losing control of his car due to excess speeding was handed a sentence of four years and eight months on Tuesday.

Hugh McGrattan, from Whiterock Drive, was informed by Her Honour Judge McCaffrey that he will spend half the sentence in jail and half on licence upon his release, after he admitted five counts of causing grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving.

McGrattan - who was driving at speeds up to 69mph in an area limited to 30mph - struck a kerb then collided with a group of around 15 people standing on the footpath. The collision occurred in the Falcon Road/Apollo Road area on the evening of November 30, 2015, and resulted in five cast and crew members sustaining serious injuries.

As well as being sent to jail, the west Belfast man was also banned from driving for five years.

At the time of the collision, the road was illuminated both by street lighting and lighting from the film crew. In addition, those involved in the documentary were all wearing high-vis clothing.

During Tuesday's sentencing, Judge McCaffrey spoke of the impact the incident has had on those affected, particularly a then-19-year old who at the time was running her own performing arts and dance business, and who is now in a wheelchair.

Branding her spinal injuries as "life-changing", Judge McCaffrey revealed that since the incident the woman can no longer carry on her chosen career, and now lives with her mother, who sold her house and bought a bungalow to suit her daughter's specific needs.

The judge also spoke of the affect it has had on others injured, including a cameraman who couldn't work for six months, and another male victim who can no longer play sport as a result of his injuries.

Belfast Crown Court heard that while the 25-year old admitted at the scene he was speeding, he believes the victims also share some responsibility as he feels they should have had signs in the area highlighting their presence.

On the evening in question MrGrattan drove past the film crew whilst doing a friend a good deed by showing him where Adelaide train halt was. It was on the return journey that McGrattan's silver Skoda Fabia - which was being driven at speed - failed to negotiate a bend, causing him to lose control of the vehicle.

All those who saw the incident - which occurred adjacent to the Hovis Bakery entrance - said the car was speeding when it hit a kerb, mounted a footpath then ploughed into a group of around 15 people on the footpath.

One woman said she saw the car drive straight at the pedestrians and said it was "like a bowling ball" when it struck the group, while another said the car was "like a snow plough with people being swept away."

CCTV footage taken from a nearby train halt camera indicated that at one point, McGrattan was travelling somewhere between 52 and 69mph in a 30mph area.

During today's sentencing, Judge McCaffrery said that McGrattan's own admissions at them scene, when he told police he as driving between 55 and 60 mph, indicated he was driving up to 100% in excess of the speed limit prior to him losing control of the car.

Saying it was her view McGrattan was driving "at a greatly excessive speed", the Judge said he showed a "total disregard for other road users", was "not paying attention to the potential hazards" and that he was "travelling too fast to take the corner safely."

Regarding McGrattan, Judge McCaffrey said she accepted there were mitigating factors. These included the fact he stayed at the scene and offered assistance to the wounded, that he had displayed remorse and that he had a lack of relevant convictions.

The Judge also said that after reading medical reports, she accepted McGrattan's underlying depression and anxiety would be exacerbated by being sent to prison.

However, after highlighting the gravity of the offence and the impact the collision has had on those affected - some of whom sustained life-changing injuries - Judge McCaffrey said a prison sentence was "appropriate."

As well as being jailed, the Judge recommended that as part of McGrattan's period on licence, he attends the Probation Board's Thinking Skills programme.

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