Why can’t NI have new tougher killer driver sentences, asks father of victim

Martin Gallagher was killed in a hit-and-run incident in Londonderry on Halloween in 2009
Martin Gallagher was killed in a hit-and-run incident in Londonderry on Halloween in 2009

A Londonderry father has demanded an explanation as to why newly introduced life sentences for killer drivers in Great Britain will not carry across to Northern Ireland.

Martin Gallagher was speaking after the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) unveiled new stiffer sentences in the wake of a ‘Drive For Justice’ campaign by the News Letter and sister Johnston Press titles,

Liz and Martin Gallagher whose son was killed in a hit and run in Londonderry in 2009.

Liz and Martin Gallagher whose son was killed in a hit and run in Londonderry in 2009.

The maximum sentences for killer drivers across the UK was only 14 years until the MoJ announced on Sunday it was raising this to life – for England, Wales and Scotland.

But Londonderry father Martin Gallagher, whose son – also called Martin – was killed by a drunk driver on Halloween night in 2009, has demanded to know why Northern Ireland will not be included.

He said: “I think it is awful that we are part of the UK but things like this don’t carry over into Northern Ireland.

“I am not sure if this is in any way due to the fact that MLAs are not sitting at Stormont at the minute.

“But what is good for one should be good for the other.

“I don’t think our sons and daughters should be treated any differently to the sons and daughters of people in England, Scotland and Wales.”

However, he was pleased to see the changes that are being brought into Great Britain.

“I think it is great news because in our case the driver is in jail for three years and then he is more or less free – but we have got a life sentence.

“It seems no politicians want to know about this. We just get an annual message of support from the PSNI on the date of Paul’s death.”

Jonathan Francis McGonagle, 23, from Moyola Drive in Shantallow, knocked Mr Gallagher into the air while he crossed the road on November 1, 2009.

Johnston Press newspapers, including the News Letter and the ‘i’, ran a ‘Drive for Justice’ campaign last year with input from Mr Gallagher, and many others, calling for stiffer sentencing.

A Johnston Press petition signed by readers across Northern Ireland and the rest of UK was handed into the MoJ.

In the wake of this, the maximum penalty is now to be increased from 14 years to life for causing death by:

• Dangerous driving

• Careless driving, under the influence of drink or drugs

• Speeding, racing, or using a mobile phone

• A new offence will also be created for causing serious injury by careless driving.

Stormont’s Department of Justice has confirmed that an 18-month sentencing review began here in April.

“The department has established a team to undertake the review and advance work to the consultation stage, at which point ministerial approval will be required,” it said.

“Recommendations arising out of the review will be subject to public consultation.”