Belfast Telegraph

I wish I'd died and grandson lived: Heartbroken grandmother (73) remorse at causing seven-year-old's death

Prosecutors defend decision to charge grandmother over boy's death in crash

By Allan Preston

Prosecutors have insisted they were right to charge a Co Antrim grandmother who killed her young grandson in a Boxing Day car crash two years ago.

Margaret Saunders (73) from Newtownabbey was handed a 150-hour community service order in Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday.

Her grandson Jackson Turner was seven when he died in a horrific two car collision on the Old Carrick Road near Carrickfergus in December 2016.

Mrs Saunders had been due to stand trial last year for causing death by dangerous driving, but prosecutors accepted her guilty plea to the lesser offence of death caused by careless driving.

At her sentencing yesterday, the court heard how the grandmother had shown genuine remorse and wished she had died instead of her grandson.

Defence counsel Patrick Lyttle QC said the death had been "hugely tragic" for everyone involved.

"Mrs Saunders is a grandmother of 73 who has lived an unblemished life, has been driving for 40 years and has never been before the courts," he said.

"All she lived for was her family: her husband, her three daughters and her son Alan.

"She worked all her life to support her family."

Having spent over 30 years as a community care worker before retiring six years ago, Mr Lyttle said his client had lived "an exemplary and unblemished life until this incident" and was "truly remorseful" for the death.

He said the crash had not been caused by excessive speed but "a moment of inadvertence" when Mrs Saunders' Nissan Micra clipped the wing mirror of a passing Citroen.

The impact and surprise caused her to lose control and drift 80cm into the opposing lane, directly hitting a Nissan Almera with "devastating consequences".

The grandmother's car spun 180 degrees in a backwards direction.

Jackson Turner, who was sitting on a booster chair in the back seat, suffered "catastrophic and fatal injuries".

Mrs Saunders said she could not recall the crash and woke up in hospital where she spent five weeks recovering from a broken pelvis and a bleed on the brain.

Her vehicle was not found to have any mechanical factors and there were no further aggravating factors in the case.

"She wishes she had died and Jackson had lived and is fully aware of the impact this tragic death has had on the rest of the family, her daughter-in-law, the mother of Jackson, and her son," Mr Lyttle told the court.

Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland acknowledged that incidents of careless driving and near misses happened daily on Northern Ireland's roads, but did not always result in serious injury.

"What can one say in such cases?," he told the court.

"I have read the very moving statements that have been prepared by Jackson Turner's parents and it is evident that this has been a difficult experience for them."

He added that Christmas would be a constant reminder to the young boy's parents and sister.

Accepting Mrs Saunders' remorse as genuine, he imposed 150 hours of community service as opposed to a probation order.

A mandatory disqualification period of 12 months was imposed and Mrs Saunders would have to re-sit her driving test before being able to drive again.

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.

A spokesperson from the Public Prosecution Service called the outcome "a tragic case for all involved", but insisted it was right to charge Mrs Saunders.

"Like every prosecution decision we take, we applied our Code for Prosecutors, which includes both an evidential and a public interest test," they said.

They added there was often a difficult balance to be struck when deciding if a prosecution was in the public interest.

"On the one hand there is the loss of a life, the need to ensure the safety of all road users and the fact that the offence of careless driving causing death carries with it a mandatory 12- month disqualification," they explained.

"On the other, we recognise the likely life-long impact on the defendant of losing a loved one and their being responsible for that loss. There are also individual factors in each case to consider."

"Having carefully considered all the public interest factors in this case we concluded that a prosecution was merited.

"We note the defendant's guilty plea and the sentence of the court."

Belfast Telegraph

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