The father of a young man killed by a drunk driver has described how the pain of his loss never goes away, as he urged the public to engage with a public consultation on tougher sentences.
Peter Dolan from Co Tyrone was speaking as the PSNI launched its anti-drink driving and drugs campaign.
His son Enda (18) was knocked down and killed by drunk driver David Stewart on Belfast’s Malone Road during his first term studying architecture at Queen’s University.
Stewart (31) had taken drugs and up to 13 drinks — including six pints of beer and four Jagerbombs — before getting behind the wheel in October 2014.
He was originally sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison and the same amount of time on licence, but this was increased on appeal to four-and-a-half years behind bars and the same period on licence.
Mr Dolan has said the police campaign has merit for raising awareness — but he believes the lack of tougher sentencing means there is no deterrent.
The maximum penalty for death by dangerous driving is 14 years, but to date no-one has ever received that sentence here.
The PSNI yesterday revealed 11,500 people were given preliminary roadside breath tests during last year’s Christmas crackdown — with 322 people failing those tests and being arrested.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said that his sympathy lies with the families of the victims.
“If you take the unacceptable risk of driving after drinking or taking drugs, you can expect to be detected by police,” he said.
“You can expect to be prosecuted and lose your driving licence. If you cause a collision in which someone is killed or seriously injured, you can expect a custodial sentence.
“The stark reality is that so far this year, 47 families across Northern Ireland are coping with the death of loved ones because of a road traffic collision. Many others are recovering from serious and life changing injuries. As a result, there are drivers having to face the fact that their actions have caused a fatal collision.”
Mr Dolan said the pain of losing his son has never eased for their family.
He said: “The bottom line is our son is not going to walk in the door this evening, or tomorrow, he is not physically with us.
“You just learn to try and deal with it or live with it as best you can under the circumstances, but it’s tragic and it has major consequences for all people involved.
“Enda would have been coming up to 24. You think about what way his life would have panned out for him, what he would be doing now, what he would be working at, how would his physical appearance have changed over the years.”
The grieving father said he believes police campaigns are useful in raising awareness, but for him, the problem with sentencing remains.
“I don’t believe there is a deterrent there for somebody drinking and driving and that’s back to the sentencing, which I have been campaigning about for the past number of years.
“The maximum sentence if you are convicted of death by dangerous driving is 14 years and to date nobody has been convicted of 14 years.
“My son in 2014 was killed while walking to his halls of residence, knocked down by a drunk driver and carried on the bonnet of the car for half a mile and fired off on the side of the road like a piece of rubbish.
“The man got three-and-a-half years in prison and then on appeal it was increased to four-and-a-half years, so for taking a life he got four-and-a-half years — that’s the basic problem that we have.”
Mr Dolan said the family were encouraged to see the Department of Justice launch a public consultation on sentencing reviews in October.
“I have asked the public to go on to this document on the Department of Justice (DOJ) website and complete section 10, which is to do with sentencing on death by dangerous driving and we are looking to increase it to life.”
Mr Dolan said he can’t understand why people would still drink and drive.
He said: “Coming close to Christmas there is always hard-hitting advertisements on TV and newspapers, and it’s out there in terms of media presence. But I can’t understand why people still do it.”
The police operation runs from November 28 to January 1.