'Blackout' driver has jail term doubled over road death
A woman who blacked out while driving and killed a young mother-of-two in a car crash has had her jail term more than doubled.
Judges in the Court of Appeal today ordered Mary McLaughlin to serve ten and a half months behind bars after declaring the original sentence unduly lenient.
The 47-year-old must also complete the same period on licence once released from prison.
McLaughlin, from Dillons Avenue, Newtownabbey, was convicted of causing the death of Rebecca McManus, 27, by dangerous driving in October 2010.
She was also found guilty of causing grievous bodily injury to four other people in the car she collided with at a motorway roundabout.
Earlier this year she was given a 15-month sentence at Belfast Crown Court, split between five months in jail and the rest on licence.
She was also banned from driving for ten years.
Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory challenged the sentence, arguing that it should be tougher.
McLaughlin suffered a blackout at the wheel of her Vauxhall Zafira at the M5 roundabout in Newtownabbey, crashing into a Ford Focus carrying five friends from the nearby Northern Regional College.
Rebecca McManus was in a back seat and killed instantly. The others suffered serious injuries.
Witnesses to the fatal crash said McLaughlin was slumped over the wheel and, following the accident, confused and asking what had happened.
It was the prosecution case that she continued to drive despite knowing she suffered from no-warning blackouts.
McLaughlin, a mother-of-three, told the court that she would never have driven if she did not feel safe to do so.
She claimed that despite suffering from repeated blackouts since 2004, a medical condition that resulted in her being medically retired from her finance job at the Northern Trust, she had come to know the warning signs of an oncoming attack.
In court Mr McGrory contended that her sentence should be increased, pointing to misinformation she gave about her condition as showing higher culpability.
McLaughlin's barrister, James Gallagher QC, argued that his client believed she could drive safely.
But Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justice Coghlin and Mr Justice Maguire, identified two aggravating factors: the serious injury to other victims as well as the death, and the defendant driving while knowing suffering from a medical condition which significantly impaired her ability.
Sir Declan said: "No sentence can begin to reflect the enormous consequences of the loss of a young mother who had everything that life could offer to look forward to and the disruption to the lives of those injured."
Ruling that the original term imposed was unduly lenient, however, he said sentences were supposed to be deterrent.
Sir Declan held that a 21-month sentence was appropriate and confirmed: "We substitute a sentence of ten and a half months in custody and the same period on licence."
McLaughlin showed no emotion as she was led out of court to be returned to jail.
Belfast Telegraph Digital