Belfast Telegraph

Car crash tycoon must go to jail

A company director who avoided jail for injuring a pensioner in a road crash was treated too leniently and must serve a year in jail, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

At Michael Berry's trial fears were expressed that his imprisonment could put staff jobs at risk, and he walked from court when his sentence was suspended.

But yesterday senior judges ordered the 49-year-old Co Antrim boss to serve 12 months behind bars for leaving a 68-year-old woman permanently disabled.

Berry, of The Priory in Ballyclare, must now present himself at HMP Maghaberry by tomorrow to begin his prison term. He was originally given a suspended 18-month sentence and fined £50,000 for causing grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving.

Berry was behind the wheel of a car which pulled into the path of Ford Focus on Moorfields Road, near Ballymena, in May 2010.

The victim was in a coma for two weeks after the collision and suffered a number of fractures.

She spent four months in hospital and needs crutches to walk.

Her husband, who was driving the car she was in, was also hurt.

Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC appealed the sentence handed down at Antrim Crown Court last year, arguing that it was unduly lenient.

Ruling yesterday, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said Berry's claim that he did not see the vehicle was "inexplicable"

At Berry's trial it was disclosed that he is the director of a financial services company with expertise in pensions.

It was claimed that the loss of any income as a result of him being sent to jail could put the company and 17 jobs at risk. If the firm failed other directors could have their homes repossessed, the judge was told.

A £50,000 fine was imposed rather than immediate custody.

But Sir Declan, sitting with Lord Justice Higgins and Mr Justice McCloskey, held that the financial penalty was wrong in principle.

He pointed out harm will often be caused to the family and work colleagues depending on an offender facing imprisonment. Sir Declan said: "In our view there were no circumstances justifying the exceptional course of suspending the sentence of imprisonment in this case and accordingly we consider that the sentence was unduly lenient."

The court ruled that a 12-month prison sentence should be substituted for the suspended term and fine. A five-year driving ban was left untouched.

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