Road victim’s dad supports ‘Drive for Justice’ campaign

Martin Gallagher.

Martin Gallagher.

The father of a young man killed in Londonderry by a speeding driver has called for much stiffer sentences as a deterrent.

Jonathan Francis McGonagle (23) knocked down Martin Gallagher on November 1, 2009, and then sped off from the scene at Racecourse Road.

McGonagle was given three years in jail and three years on licence and banned from driving for 10 years.

His car hit Martin Gallagher (25) so hard that it threw him 33 metres in the air.

McGonagle, from Moyola Drive in Shantallow, was over the alcohol limit for driving and had cannabis in his system.

Martin Gallagher’s father, also Martin, has spoken out as part of a new ‘Drive For Justice’ campaign spearheaded by Johnston Press.

The campaign calls for changes in the law to make sentencing fit the crime for those who kill or seriously injure people on our roads.

The ‘Drive For Justice’ campaign aims to give families who have lost loved ones in such circumstances ‘a voice’.

It also urges government to re-work guidelines so judges can use existing powers as well as tackle loopholes and impose tougher sentences for the worst offenders.

Martin Gallagher Snr. says he and his wife Elizabeth had just gone to bed on Halloween night 2009 when they heard shouting outside their home.

Shortly afterwards, their eldest son burst into their bedroom, shouting: “He’s dead, he’s dead”.

Martin’s wife, Elizabeth, asked: “Who’s dead?”

Their son replied: “Martin’s dead”.

They then went downstairs to find police in their living room asking them could they go with them to identify the body.

They travelled to the morgue in Belfast.

A young policeman came out of the morgue as they arrived.

“He was as white as a ghost and he said to us: ‘If that was my son I wouldn’t go in there,’” Martin recalled.

The couple discussed whether they should go in or not.

“Half his face was missing,” says Martin. “We didn’t go in and that is one of the reasons that you don’t get closure because we had the coffin in the house but it was closed.

“So you are always wondering if he was in it. You knew he was in it but, still, you wonder, was he in it?”

Martin says McGonagle drove on to a party after killing his son.

Police, he says, found the car in the Shantallow area of the city, not far from Gallagher’s home.

“He claimed that his mother had been driving the car but the police arrested him. There was a fella and a girl in the car with him. The girl said she saw Martin crossing the road and shouted - ‘slow down, there is a man crossing that road’.

“But he just sped on and didn’t even try to brake,” Mr Gallagher added.

His son was about to step onto the footpath when he was hit.

The girl who had been in the back seat of the car gave the police a full statement, which meant the entire prosecution was completed within a year.

“But, to me, what is the difference with that and a man going out with a gun? If someone had shot Martin, they would have got seven years.”

The family says it pressed the Public Prosecution Service to charge the driver with manslaughter, but to no avail.

His custodial sentence was three years, with three years on licence and a ten year driving ban.

When he was arrested, says Martin, he was well over the limit with drink and drugs in his system.

However, it could not be proved that he had them in his system at the time of the collision.

The Bradley family say they were subjected to personal abuse in the street in the run up to the trial, which they declined to engage with.

Their son was an electrician by trade and did a lot of running for charities such as the local hospice.

“He loved to run,” says Martin. “He never smoked but enjoyed a drink at the weekends. He really looked after himself.

“He had a good personality, he was the life and soul of the party.”

Martin lived at home with his parents and, at the time of his death, had been seeing a girl for several years.

“We never had any bother with him. He hung around with a great crowd of fellas, they were never in bother or anything like that,” says his dad.

The family says it spoke to a range of elected representatives about the sentencing.

They say they were promised sentencing reform at Stormont, but say they are still waiting for change, six years later.

“We just felt that nobody wanted to help us, politicians or anyone; you are just left out on a limb. We didn’t know what to do or where to turn.”

Martin Gallagher hopes they can affect some change which will help the next family that may face a similar ordeal.

”I would like to get the sentences increased,” says Martin. “It would be a bit of closure for us - not helping us but helping the next person.”

A reasonable sentence, he feels, would be “life for life”.

But, more realistically, he says such drivers should get “at least ten years”.

“He got three years but me and Elizabeth have got a life sentence.”

To sign the Drive for Justice petition, go to: https://www.change.org/p/uk-parliament-deliver-stiffer-punishments-for-drivers-who-kill-or-seriously-injure-on-uk-roads?recruiter=16742882&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink