Belfast Telegraph

Anger of grieving parents as driver who killed son avoids jail on new motoring offences

Elizabeth and Martin Gallagher, whose son Martin Gallagher, was knocked down and killed
Elizabeth and Martin Gallagher, whose son Martin Gallagher, was knocked down and killed
Martin Gallagher
Jonathan McGonagle

By George Jackson

The parents of a young athlete killed in a hit-and-run have told of their anger after the man responsible was convicted of new driving offences.

Martin Gallagher (25) was knocked down when he was returning to his family home at Sandale Park in Londonderry in the early hours of November 1, 2009, following the Halloween festivities in the city.

Jonathan McGonagle, the driver responsible, was jailed for six years - three were spent in jail and three on licence.

Yesterday he was given a five-month suspended sentence after appearing back in court on different driving charges.

McGonagle (32), from Marianus Park in the Hazelbank area of Derry, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, driving while disqualified, driving a mini motorcycle without insurance, failing to wear protective headgear and driving the mini motorcycle with his son sitting between his legs without proper seating.

Martin Gallagher's parents Martin and Elizabeth were in court. Afterwards they said he should have gone to jail.

Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, co-operation with police and remorse, as well as aggravating factors such as intent and excessive violence.

But Mr Gallagher said: "We got no justice when Martin was killed almost 10 years ago and we got no justice today."

Mrs Gallagher said she believed McGonagle was still a danger to other road users, adding: "He has not been punished at all."

Outlining the latest charges, a solicitor for the Public Prosecution Service told District Judge Barney McElholm that McGonagle committed the offences at Glengalliagh Road on January 4 this year.

Members of a police mobile patrol saw a man driving a mini motorcycle at speed along the footpath at Glengalliagh Road and weaving in between pedestrians.

Because it was in a 30mph speed limit area, police were unable to keep up with the defendant, the court was told.

"They noticed he was not wearing protective head gear and he had a small child in front of him on the mini motorcycle between his legs," the prosecutor said.

"He saw the police and he drove into Leafair [area] while turning around and looking over his shoulder towards the police vehicle.

"The police were concerned for the safety of the child and for the safety of other members of the public. They followed him into Leafair but they could not find him.

"However, the police later received a statement from another witness who saw the incident and the officers were able to identify the defendant as a result of that statement.

"The defendant has a relevant serious previous conviction dating back to November 2009," the prosecution added.

Defence barrister Sean Doherty said a probation report had been prepared for the court prior to McGonagle being sentenced.

"His explanation for his reckless behaviour on this day related to medical issues concerning his child who was in a panic," he said.

"He did not respond to it in an appropriate way and accepts his reactions were extremely foolish," the defence said.

District Judge Mr McElholm said the absolute maximum sentence he could impose was one of six months imprisonment.

"Given he has pleaded guilty at an early stage he is entitled to some reduction, so the maximum sentence is probably five months of which he would serve two-and-a-half months in custody, which quite frankly will do no one any good except to incur a cost on the taxpayers," the judge said.

Mr McElholm imposed a five-month jail sentence, suspended for three years, and disqualified McGonagle from driving for three years and until retested.

He also fined McGonagle £550 and imposed an Enhanced Combination Order under which McGonagle will be on probation for two years and he must carry out eight hours of community service.

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