Belfast Telegraph

Family's fury after killer drink driver gets just four years

BY PAUL HIGGINS

The family of a young mother killed by a drink driver has branded his sentence "stupid" after he was jailed for four years.

Hugh Torney (28) – who was more than three times over the limit when he killed 26-year-old Danielle McKenna – appeared at Downpatrick Crown Court yesterday where he was handed a four-year sentence.

But the mother-of-one's family were left incensed as the driver will likely serve just half that.

Speaking outside the court yesterday, Martin McKenna, whose sister was killed as she walked home from a night out, said he was almost speechless at the lenient sentence.

Looking numb, Mr McKenna said: "What can I say, it's not long enough, it's stupid. I'm lost for words. The judge might as well give him a bottle of vodka and car keys."

On the morning his trial was due to start last month, Torney, from the Upper Ballygelagh Road, Ardkeen, Kircubbin pleaded guilty to causing the death of his former school friend by careless driving with excess alcohol, drink driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

As he sat in the dock yesterday, head bowed and constantly wiping away tears, Torney was told by Judge Piers Grant that it was clear "that you will carry a considerable burden for the rest of your life".

He added it was also clear that the mother-of-one's family had suffered an "enormous loss" as a result of the tragic accident on June 9, 2012, describing their victim impact statement as "very moving, courageous and remarkably devoid of any bitterness".

"I recognise, as all courts should, no sentence imposed will ever bring this young woman back to her friends, back to life or back to her son and relatives and will do very little to repair the upset and grief suffered by them," said the judge.

Danielle's father was also visibly upset as the judge recounted how she had been out socialising and drinking with her boyfriend and his sister in Finnegan's Bar while Torney, who had gone to school with her when they were children, was drinking in the Mermaid Bar, both in Kircubbin, before he got a taxi home.

At home, Torney got a call about a party so, despite being drunk, he decided to get behind the wheel of his Volkswagen Bora car.

As he drove along the Rowreagh Road, his car struck the nursing assistant who had decided to walk home despite her boyfriend trying to persuade her otherwise.

Torney drove on but later returned where he told his victim's distraught boyfriend: "I've hit her, I've hit her – I'm going to jail".

Danielle was found lying dead in the hedgerow. Judge Grant said that according to expert reports, Torney had been travelling "at no less than 40mph" along the unlit country road.

A breathalyser test at the scene showed Torney was "slightly in excess of three times the legal limit," said the judge.

Judge Grant said Danielle, who worked at the Ulster Hospital, had dreamed of joining the Army "in order to improve her life and the life of her son".

He told Torney that although the maximum sentence for death by careless driving was five years, there was a 14-year maximum when excess alcohol was involved with the "clear purpose to deter those who might be minded to drive" while drunk.

As well as the four-year jail sentence handed down, Torney was also banned from driving for five years.

BACKGROUND

Danielle McKenna was a nursing assistant at the Ulster Hospital but dreamed of a career in the Army. The 26-year-old was mother to a young son and had plans to improve their lives.

She was walking home from a pub in Kircubbin, along a country road, when she was hit by a car being driven by Hugh Torney in June 2012.

Torney had been drinking in a different pub that night and was three times over the legal limit to be driving.

The driver and his victim had been childhood friends as they had gone to the same school together as children.

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