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Claire McNeilly: Weeping silently in court, Natasha's family wonder how they can tell little Lily Rose her mother was killed


Natasha Carruthers

Natasha Carruthers


Natasha Carruthers

Lily Rose is too young to remember her first birthday with her 23-year-old mother Natasha Carruthers.

Tragically, it will be the only one the little girl, now aged three, will ever get to spend with her mum, who was killed when the car she was travelling in hit a tree in a horror crash two years ago.

Now, as she grows up in her grandmother's home, all the toddler has left are a few photographs of the special woman who brought her into the world, and perhaps some stories of how happy they were before Natasha was so cruelly taken from them.

At Belfast Crown Court yesterday, the two men responsible for causing Natasha's death in a high speed car chase on October 7, 2017 in Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, were sentenced to a total of 23 years.

Cavan man Padraig Toher (29), who admitted the Letterbreen mum's manslaughter, was jailed for 12 years.

Natasha's boyfriend, Nathan Charles Phair (23), who was convicted of causing her death by dangerous driving, was jailed for 11 years.

Half of the sentences will be served in prison, with the remainder under supervised licence.

Prior to sentencing, Judge Neil Rafferty QC drew attention to a statement by the victim's mother Jill McKeown following her daughter's death.

"As a family we try to keep going, living with the sadness which has been put upon our family," she said.

"I remember Lily Rose's first birthday. Tasha took her swimming to the Forum and we had a family party after. Little did we know that this was the only birthday Lily Rose and Tasha would have together.

"Lily Rose now lives with me, her nanny. I and the rest of the family will have the job of explaining to a little girl that her mummy was killed."

Mrs McKeown added: "I will have to deal with my granddaughter's broken heart while also dealing with my own."

Sitting side by side in the public gallery, with their arms linked, Natasha's mother and sister cried silent tears as they listened intently to the judge throughout the proceedings, which lasted around 30 minutes.

They were too emotional to speak afterwards, but a police officer read out a statement on their behalf.

"No sentence will change the fact that Tasha is dead and we as a family have to live with the life sentence inflicted on us," her family said. "There is not a day goes by that we do not think of Tasha and our heart breaks.

"Tasha died from horrific injuries resulting from the selfish actions of Padraig Toher and Nathan Phair.

"Her death has impacted on our entire family."

Describing her as a "much loved mother, daughter, sister, granddaughter and niece" and "a fun-loving, caring person with a heart of gold", they said "Lily Rose had just turned one when her mummy was killed".

"She will never know her mum," they said.

"All she will have is the photos from when she was a baby. We will never be able to replace the love of her mummy."

But the young victim's family also paid tribute to "the numerous people who have helped in the quest for justice for Tasha" including the emergency services and "the neighbours who heard the crash and came to help".

Neither of the two men who caused Natasha's death expressed any emotion yesterday as Judge Rafferty QC told them: "It is difficult to see how either of you can escape a significant custodial sentence". Initially the crash was thought to have been a tragic accident until it emerged that Natasha's boyfriend was trying to flee from Toher, whom he had double-crossed in a drugs deal.

The fatal collision followed a 12-mile car chase during which the cars reached speeds of 100mph and made contact with each other numerous times.

Natasha died instantly when thrown through the windscreen of her blue Vauxhall Corsa car, driven by drugs-addled Phair, after it struck a tree at over 60mph on the outskirts of Derrylin.

Listening to the judge refer to the "outrageously reckless chase" and subsequent "carnage", Mrs McKeown - who looked so very sad - removed her glasses and wiped away the tears she could no longer keep at bay.

After the sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Eamonn Corrigan said that Toher and Phair "made a deliberate and conscious decision to drive two cars along public roads in a completely reckless manner".

"During the 12 mile, high-speed pursuit, Padraig was chasing after Nathan following a failed drug deal the night before, during which Nathan took money from Padraig for cocaine but didn't supply the drugs," he said.

"Speeds of 100 miles per hour were reached during the chase as Nathan, who was under the influence of drugs whilst driving, gave no thought for the safety of his passengers including Natasha. His only motive was to escape the consequences of his actions the night before, regardless of how dangerously he was driving.

"The recklessness of their actions tragically resulted in a collision which claimed the life of young Natasha, who was a passenger in Nathan's car and suffered horrific injuries following the collision," he added.

"Her family's lives have been ruined by Nathan and Padraig."

Mr Corrigan said that while Toher has "shown remorse for his actions" since the horrendous incident, Phair "has continually refused to accept any responsibility for Natasha's death".

"Throughout the investigation it was clear that Phair felt no remorse for the fact that his actions killed a young mother," said the senior officer.

"Shortly after the crash he even boasted in social media messages that he would be likely to get a claim out of his injuries and Disability Living Allowance."

Although both men have now been jailed for their role in Natasha's death, her family will have to live with their loss forever.

But how can there ever be any real justice for Natasha's little girl, Lily Rose, who must now grow up without her caring mother with the heart of gold?

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