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OAP warned sight too poor to drive avoids jail for crash that saw woman lose her leg

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Imposing an 18-month jail sentence at Dungannon Crown Court, Judge Paul Ramsey QC told the 78-year-old he was suspending the sentence for three years in view of his age, health conditions, guilty pleas and remorse (stock photo)

Imposing an 18-month jail sentence at Dungannon Crown Court, Judge Paul Ramsey QC told the 78-year-old he was suspending the sentence for three years in view of his age, health conditions, guilty pleas and remorse (stock photo)

Imposing an 18-month jail sentence at Dungannon Crown Court, Judge Paul Ramsey QC told the 78-year-old he was suspending the sentence for three years in view of his age, health conditions, guilty pleas and remorse (stock photo)

A pensioner who left another driver with a lifelong disability when he caused a head-on crash has narrowly avoided prison.

Edward Conwell was behind the wheel even though he had been repeatedly told his sight was below the legal standard.

Imposing an 18-month jail sentence at Dungannon Crown Court, Judge Paul Ramsey QC told the 78-year-old he was suspending the sentence for three years in view of his age, health conditions, guilty pleas and remorse.

The judge said while he accepted the sentence will be "little comfort" to the victims, "there's little doubt that he will have to carry for the rest of his days the shame of what his actions have caused".

As well as the suspended jail sentence Conwell, from the Peacock Road in Sion Mills, was banned from driving for five years, with the judge adding: "I doubt very much that you will get back behind the wheel of a car again."

On the morning his trial was due to start last November Conwell admitted two counts of causing grievous bodily injury to Rosemary Conlon and her daughter Catherine Conlon by driving dangerously on Mulvin Road, Victoria Bridge, Strabane, on August 4, 2017.

Described as "sad and heartbreaking", the court heard how the mother and daughter sustained significant injuries in the head-on smash and that, tragically, surgeons had to remove half of Mrs Conlon's right leg. The crash was caused, said the judge, by Conwell swerving into the oncoming lane as he tried to avoid crashing into the car in front of him.

Judge Ramsey outlined how a forensic engineer estimated that Conwell's Toyota Landcruiser had been travelling at around 36mph when it collided with Mrs Conlon's Mercedes.

Conwell himself was also injured, sustaining fractures to his sternum and ribs, but the most significant medical evidence, said the judge, came from opticians.

Judge Ramsey said while Conwell claimed he had "no recollection" of it, prosecution papers revealed he had been told on three occasions that his eyesight "was below the legal standard for driving".

The judge further revealed that at the time of the accident Conwell was waiting for a careless driving charge to be dealt with.

The judge said "it's a pity" that wasn't dealt with more swiftly because "he would have been serving a period of disqualification but sadly, that's not the case".

Judge Ramsey said while it often appears that courts are focused on defendants, "that does not mean we are not aware of the victims and their acute sense of loss".

In her victim impact statement Mrs Conlon spoke of how her life "changed dramatically" that day, when having gone out "I did not expect to be arriving back home seven weeks later in a wheelchair".

Judge Ramsey told Conwell that driving with a medical condition impairing his ability was an aggravating factor. In mitigation, he said, there was his "genuine shock and remorse" as well as his guilty plea and multiple health conditions.

He said that overall, taking all matters into account, the jail sentence should be suspended.

Belfast Telegraph