Belfast Telegraph

Driver who was browsing web on phone at time of fatal crash jailed for 13 months

By Paul Higgins

A man who was using his mobile phone to browse the web when he knocked down and killed an elderly pedestrian has been jailed for 13-and-a-half months.

Edward Devlin was told the fact he had his eyes off the road to use his mobile to look at cars for sale on Gumtree was "particularly egregious".

The 21-year-old, from the Leitrim Road in Hilltown, near Newry, pleaded guilty to causing the death of Ian Leonard Bailie by driving dangerously on the Old Ballynahinch Road in Lisburn on October 28, 2014.

It is believed to be the first case in Northern Ireland of a driver using an app when an accident was caused.

In a victim impact statement, Mr Bailie's wife, Carol, said the couple's dreams of contented retirement had been "totally destroyed".

The court heard Mrs Bailie's life has been "blighted" by the "irreparable loss" of her husband. Craigavon Crown Court heard how a slurry tanker was parked outside Mr Bailie's home on a "straight section of road," emptying a septic tank with Mr Bailie helping.

A Skoda Octavia car was waiting to overtake the tractor and slurry tanker when apprentice mechanic Devlin, driving a VW Caddy van which belonged to his employers, mounted the grass verge to avoid a collision with the car. However, the car struck a telegraph pole.

Unfortunately Mr Bailie, the court heard, had been standing at his gateway on the other side of the pole when, as Judge Patrick Lynch described, "he was struck either by the van or the pole itself or more likely a combination of the two, sustaining serious injuries." He was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital but, almost a month later, on November 19, "he tragically succumbed to his injuries".

The judge said Devlin "jumped out of the van" and told the driver of the Octavia that he was "sorry" but that he mounted the grass verge to avoid hurting her because he "saw there was children in the back".

A forensic engineer said it was "a relatively straight portion of road", and Devlin would have had sight of the Octavia and tractor for around 300 metres and for just over 13 seconds as he approached.

The court heard a GPRS device in the van showed no evidence of excess speed. Examination of Devlin's mobile phone showed it had been used to send a text message and for "web browsing" during his journey. In his initial police interview Devlin denied using the phone but during the second interview, when the phone evidence was put to him, he admitted sending a text as he left Belfast in slow traffic.

He further confessed that up until the time of the collision, he had been browsing Gumtree "to look at lists of cars".

He said that as his phone locked and required a passcode after a certain amount of time, he left it on the passenger seat and "admitted to keeping the phone open".

"The explanation for this catastrophic mistake is simple," Judge Lynch told the court. "The phone had been in continuous use prior to the accident itself."

He said the fact the mobile phone had been used "over a protracted period" was a "particularly serious aspect of this case as were his two previous convictions for careless driving committed within a week of each other in March 2013".

Judge Lynch said the devastation was "graphically demonstrated" in the victim impact statement of Carol Bailie, the victim's wife.

She said her husband had been "looking forward to, and entitled to look forward after a lifetime of work, to contented retirement - that's been totally destroyed".

Mrs Bailie was Devlin's second victim as her life "has been blighted by what is an irreparable loss", the judge said.

He said that as well as the loss of her husband and life partner, she has become isolated, doesn't feel able to socialise the way she did and doesn't sleep properly.

In mitigation, the judge said he accepted Devlin had expressed "genuine remorse" for what he had done and had even wanted to attend his victim's wake "but was advised against that by the police".

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.

Judge Lynch said as a result of Devlin failing to see "what was obviously in front of you... a man looking forward to retirement is now dead and he can never be replaced. Nothing I can say and no sentence I can pass will be a substitute for the tragedy that's been occasioned to Mrs Bailie."

The judge told Devlin that he would have faced a longer term in jail if he hadn't pleaded guilty.

Devlin was jailed for 13 and a half months, and will spend the same period on licence. He was also banned from driving for four years.

As the judge announced the sentence, Devlin looked shocked and was shaking as he was led from the dock in handcuffs.

Outside court, neither his family nor Mrs Bailie wished to comment.

Belfast Telegraph


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