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Man jailed over Ireland's worst car crash to be resentenced

Published 16/11/2015

Shaun Kelly will be resentenced over the crash on July 11 2010
Shaun Kelly will be resentenced over the crash on July 11 2010

A man jailed over Ireland's worst car crash is to be resentenced before Christmas after his imprisonment was ruled too lenient.

The Court of Appeal said Shaun Kelly, 26, of Hill Road, Ballymagan, Buncrana in Co Donegal, had effectively had his original sentence "double discounted".

He pleaded guilty at Letterkenny Circuit Criminal Court to dangerous driving causing the deaths of eight men on a road between Clonmany and Buncrana on July 11 2010.

The final two years of the four-year sentence was suspended by Judge John O'Hagan last December.

Before the Court of Appeal, a barrister for the Director of Public Prosecutions had argued the sentence did not reflect the gravity of Kelly's culpability and the harm caused.

Kelly's lawyer said the sentencing judge had taken all the relevant factors into account, including his culpability, remorse, brain injury, and the nature of the "monumental tragedy" wreaked on the community.

But in a 22-page judgment, a three-judge Court of Appeal ruled the sentencing judge "erred" when weighing up the factors involved in the case.

"The court considers that the sentence imposed in the Circuit Court represented a substantial departure from what would be appropriate in such a case, and therefore must be set aside as unduly lenient," said presiding Judge George Birmingham.

Kelly appeared in court for the brief appeal hearing, dressed in an open-necked blue shirt and navy sweater.

Judge Birmingham said the Court of Appeal did not agree with the sentencing judge that Kelly had entered an "early plea", having only pleaded guilty after a jury was sworn in for a trial.

Furthermore, the sentencing judge delivered a jail term on the basis that Kelly would be facing a seven-year sentence if he had contested the case, the appeal ruling stated.

Judge Birmingham said a seven-year sentence would only have been a minimum "and a sentence somewhat in excess of that would be more appropriate in that situation".

While there were mitigating circumstances "the double discounting that occurred here from seven years to four years and then from four years to two years was not justified," he added.

The judge said the court took into account Kelly's remorse, that he will have to bear a life-long burden and that a number of victims' families had shown "extraordinary generosity" in asking he not be sent to jail.

But he noted other families had remained silent and pointed out Kelly's previous conviction for dangerous driving.

"Obviously this is an appalling case," he said.

"The culpability was very high. This was not a case of a single act of dangerous driving such as taking a bend at too great a speed or overtaking when it was not safe to do so.

"Rather this was a case of sustained dangerous driving.

"The consequences of the sustained dangerous driving were enormous, involving the greatest loss of life in a road traffic collision in the history of the State."

The judge added the court was anxious a new sentence be handed down as soon as possible.

Kelly was entitled to know his fate and the families of victims should not have the case "dragging on" over Christmas, he added.

The case is to be mentioned again on Friday to fix a sentence hearing date.

Judge Birmingham also asked for updated victim impact statements from the loved ones of those killed in the crash.

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