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Graphic road safety ads producer slams 'too light' sentences dished out to some killer drivers

By Noel McAdam

Published 30/11/2016

One of the road safety adverts devised by David Lyle
One of the road safety adverts devised by David Lyle
David Lyle
Killer driver Jonathan McGonigle
Crash victim Kevin McChesnie

The man behind Northern Ireland's graphic road safety adverts has warned that courts are going too easy on some killer drivers.

David Lyle cited a number of specific cases where the sentences had been "too light".

They include Londonderry man Jonathan McGonigle (23), who was given a three-year jail term for knocking down Martin Gallagher in November 2009.

In another case, drunk driver Peter Smith served just nine months behind bars after 17-year-old Kevin McChesnie was killed when the car he was a passenger in crashed into a tree in 2008.

Causing death by dangerous driving carries a potential sentence of up to 14 years.

Mr Lyle, chief executive of Lyle Bailey International, said he respected the independence of the judiciary and conceded his company's campaigns should have no influence on sentencing.

But he noted that few guilty drivers got the maximum tariff.

Mr Lyle, who was awarded the OBE in 2012 for services to road safety, said the campaign adverts had to reflect the law accurately.

"We certainly don't imply greater sentences than the law allows. We are very conscious that the victims we work with feel aggrieved that the sentences are too light, but we are not responsible for that," he said.

"We have a moral duty to let people know there are now prison sentences in relation to dangerous and careless driving.

"For a long time people did not really know that. I have every sympathy with people who feel there have been prison sentences which are too lenient."

Both Mr Gallagher's parents Martin and Elizabeth, and Mr McChesnie's mother June Curran, have taken part in campaigns organised by Mr Lyle's firm.

"I do think the sentences were too light in these cases," Mr Lyle said.

"I do know the judges have to take into account mitigating factors, and I have to say when I have read judgments in the High Court and Appeal Court, I have always been impressed by the even-handedness judges show.

"I do have a deep respect for the fact that sentencing is the prerogative of the courts."

His comments came as the Government department responsible for commissioning the adverts denied the campaigns created false expectations of judges handing down stiff sentences.

The Department for Infrastructure said: "The campaigns are accurate and reflect the legislation.

"The sentencing is a matter for the judiciary."

Mr Lyle, who created the graphic TV and cinema ads with company partner Julie Anne Bailey, said he cannot remember how many they had produced.

But he said it would amount to "scores" - and the first one dates back to 1995. One of the most recent was introduced to coincide with the introduction of the specific charge of "causing death by dangerous driving".

"This is the ad which does mention imprisonment," he added.

"It features a texting scene on a mobile phone, girls looking at their mobile phone and a young driver glances down to read a text, and in that lapse of concentration he hits a family driving towards him and causes the car to spin off the road and flip into a field, where we suspect someone has been killed.

"Then in the aftermath scene, we see emergency services and a little girl being taken away with the implication being that she has been killed, and we see the guilty driver being arrested and put in a police car, and then the tag line is 'One lapse to last a lifetime'.

"The voice-over says if you kill someone by driving carelessly, you can go to prison for up to five years, and that is correct, that is the law."

He added: "We started running that when the new offence of causing death by careless driving was introduced. There is one where there is a judge, with a scene where a young couple are canoodling and a car crushes them, it is very graphic.

"We clearly established in the scene the diver was driving excessively and at speed, and we see the aftermath and the trauma. The girl ends up in a wheelchair.

"The judge says: 'It is quite clear that you were driving too fast to cope with the unexpected'.

"But we don't actually hear a sentence pronounced.

"Although, yes, the implication is that he is going to be imprisoned, it has been established he caused death by dangerous driving which can attract a sentence of up to 14 years.

"He is clearly guilty."

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