Belfast Telegraph

Parents of teen girl killed in car crash say they will never get justice after retrial collapses


Charly-Jean Thompson
Charly-Jean Thompson
Mark and Nicola Thompson
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

The parents of a 15-year-old girl who died in an alleged death-driving case say they feel they will "never get justice" after a retrial over their only daughter's death collapsed.

Speaking for the first time since the loss of their precious daughter Charly-Jean Thompson nearly five years ago, Mark and Nicola Thompson said they feel "let down by the justice system".

Charly-Jean, a Cookstown High School student, died four days after a two-vehicle collision near Cookstown in 2013.

Last week, a retrial of Lee Walter Hegarty, who was driving the car that Charly-Jean and her boyfriend Ryan McCracken were passengers in, ended when the jury at Dungannon Crown Court was unable to reach a verdict.

The first trial last May returned the same result.

His voice breaking, Charly-Jean's grieving father Mark (49) recalled how he had rushed to Craigavon Area Hospital after the accident and was confronted by the sight of paramedics frantically trying to save his girl.

The aspiring hairdresser was declared brain dead a few days later, and her organs were donated to seven people.

"The trials have been really traumatic, really stressful for our family," Mark told the Belfast Telegraph. "We are mentally exhausted at the end of it, and feel physically deflated. We had still thought that we might get justice - we had waited more than four years in limbo for it.

"The second trial started the day before what would have been Charly-Jean's 21st birthday.

"The only hope we have now is that someone will come forward with new information."

On the night of the crash, former chef Nicola (43) was in London, while steel worker Mark was waiting for his daughter to return home.

"I got a phone call from the police to say Charly had been in an RTC (road traffic accident) and I had to get to Craigavon Hospital straightaway," Mark recalled. "I didn't realise how serious it was.

"I went into the hospital room and Charly was lying there and the emergency services, doctors and nurses were working on her.

"I knew one of the ambulance drivers, and he said to me, 'Your wee girl is very, very sick but she's in a good place'.

"Charly had internal bleeding due to wearing a seatbelt and they took her away to operate on her. We didn't realise at that stage that there was brain damage."

Mark says it was only when he saw his daughter two hours later that the extent of her injuries became apparent.

"She was lying there with machines and tubes coming out of her, and I realised it wasn't looking good," he continued.

"My wife Nicola got the first flight home and they sent Charly to the Royal. The doctors told us she was seriously ill, but we didn't realise she was going to die."

Charly-Jean was on a ventilator, and her family witnessed distressing scenes as they kept a four-day bedside vigil.

"They told us she was brain dead," Mark continued. "The brain stem had been pushed onto her brain and there was swelling. Her wee eyes got bigger and bigger and her tongue swelled up. We watched that for four days."

Nicola added: "No parent should have to watch their child's brain swell up to the point that her face is unrecognisable."

In line with her wishes, Charly-Jean's organs were donated to people across the UK.

"Her heart went to a five-year-old boy, a young woman in her 30s received a kidney and her pancreas, and another young woman received her other kidney," Nicola continued.

"A woman in her 40s received her liver, and her eyes gave sight to three people who we have kept in touch with.

"Maybe in time the knowledge that she helped so many others will bring me some comfort, now that the dark cloud of a very traumatic court case and retrial is over.

"Charly-Jean's bedroom is exactly how she left it, and will remain the heart of our home."

Mr Hegarty, of Molesworth Road, Cookstown, was accused of causing Charly-Jean's death by careless driving as well as causing grievous bodily harm to her boyfriend, Mr McCracken.

Charly-Jean was a rear seat passenger in a BMW driven by Mr Hegarty when it collided with a Toyota Helix at Drum Road before striking a telegraph pole.

Mr McCracken, who was 17 at the time, was a front seat passenger in the BMW, and had to be cut free from the wreckage. It had been claimed Mr Hegarty was travelling on Cookstown's Kildress Road, and did not stop at the junction with Drum Road. A collision occurred with the 4x4 coming from the other direction.

The driver of the 4x4, who was also injured, described having no time to brake. The impact sent his vehicle over the roof of Mr Hegarty's car.

The court heard a police officer carried out an inspection of the area the following day, and observed the 'Give Way' sign at the junction between the two roads to be facing away from the direction it should have been.

Efforts to obtain fingerprints from the sign were unsuccessful. The defence argued the sign facing the wrong direction by a malicious action was a major factor.

The jury in the retrial could not reach a verdict, and the PPS is not seeking a third trial.

"We feel we will never get justice for Charly-Jean," Mark continued. "The whole court process has been traumatic.

"When the judge read out the note saying the jury couldn't come to a decision we got up and walked out before they came back in.

"We were completely gutted - it was awful, and we feel so let down by the system."

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