A Co Down pensioner who has 41 previous convictions for driving whilst disqualified was back in court yesterday for further motoring offences.
Thomas Heron, who turns 74 at the end of the month, was disqualified from driving for life in March 2008.
Despite this ban, he was back behind the wheel in September 2018 when he caused an accident in Dundonald while driving to visit his partner in hospital. Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard that despite initial denials that he was the driver, Heron admitted three charges arising from the incident.
From Well Road in Ballywalter, Heron pleaded guilty to driving whilst disqualified, no insurance and failing to report an accident. He was handed an 18-month sentence, suspended for three years, by Judge Geoffrey Miller QC.
Heron attended the remote sentencing in his solicitor’s office, where he heard Judge Miller once again ban him from driving for life.
Judge Miller acknowledged that Heron was due to be sentenced in March, but said: “By virtue of the health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the courts have been in virtual lockdown for the past two months.”
The three driving offences occurred on the Upper Newtownards Road in Dundonald on September 16, 2018. Three family members were in a car stopped in the left-hand lane at the Dunlady Road junction, when a Suzuki driven by Heron in the right-hand lane scraped against their vehicle.
Damage was caused to both vehicles, and when the two drivers got out of their cars and spoke to each other, the driver of the Suzuki said his name was Tom McCready and gave an address in Bangor.
He also claimed he didn’t have his driving licence with him, and that this vehicle was insured.
A report was made to the PSNI and when police attended the address in Bangor given at the scene by the Suzuki driver, the occupant said that he had no knowledge of the vehicle or the name given.
In November 2018 Heron was stopped by police driving the Suzuki on the Bangor Road in Newtownards. Judge Miller revealed Heron has already been sentenced for these offences.
When interviewed by police about the September 2018 incident in Dundonald, Heron denied he was the driver. However, he was picked out in an identification procedure, and later appeared in court where he admitted the offences.
Noting that Heron was disqualified from driving for life in March 2008, Judge Miller said the pensioner had 188 previous convictions, 119 of which were for motoring offences.
Also noted by the Judge were three further convictions for driving whilst disqualified since the life ban was imposed, which Judge Miller said “brings the total for this offence to 41 — a figure unprecedented in this court”.
Turning to Heron’s personal circumstances, Judge Miller said when questioned about the September 2018 offences by a probation officer, Heron said his long-term partner was in hospital, he felt isolated, and the only other way to see her was by public transport.
Heron also acknowledged that driving that day was a “bad idea” but that he acted out of “loneliness and desperation” to see his partner in hospital.
Judge Miller said that whilst he accepted this was Heron’s motivation, Heron was well aware he was banned from driving, he “sought to evade detection” and continued to drive after the collision. Judge Miller handed him an 18-month sentence which he suspended for three years and issued a warning about the consequences of breaching the court order.