Grieving mum’s hunt for crash death answers resonates in Australia

Claire Kelly was aged just 20 when she lost her life in a car crash near Claudy, Co Londonderry
Claire Kelly was aged just 20 when she lost her life in a car crash near Claudy, Co Londonderry

The decision by a Northern Ireland mother to meet the drunk driver responsible for her daughter’s death has inspired authorities in Australia to set up meetings between victims and perpetrators.

Claire Kelly, from Dungiven in Co Londonderry, was aged just 20 when she lost her life in a car crash near Claudy on December 11, 2011.

She was the backseat passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver, who crashed while being pursued by police after having been spotted driving erratically.

The driver, Kevin Brolly, from Rannyglass in Dungiven, was jailed after he pleaded guilty to a host of driving offences following the crash.

The decision by Claire’s mother, Denise McAuley, to meet with Mr Brolly while he was locked up in Magilligan Prison has now inspired Australian authorities to set up similar ‘restorative justice’ meetings.

Speaking to the News Letter, Denise explained how she had sought out a meeting with Mr Brolly, and then later recounted her story at an international restorative justice conference held in Belfast.

Listening to her speak was Rob Hulls, who is now director of the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT University in Melbourne.

He told the BBC it was a “light bulb moment” and crucial in the setting up of similar restorative justice meetings between victims and perpetrators in Victoria, Australia.

Denise said: “I am amazed that someone has come along and heard my story – and of course it is a story that unfortunately many a parent can tell – and has taken the seed of that and implemented a scheme to help families and victims in their own area.”

Speaking about the aftermath of her daughter’s death, she said: “I needed answers and I wasn’t getting answers. I didn’t want to think that my daughter was left on her own to die in a cold car. I didn’t want to think that her last memory was the impact. I needed to know that she had been cradled and supported.

“I needed to know what happened, and I needed to know what his (the driver) thoughts were.

“It was the only way, going to meet him.”

Denise explained how she contacted a charity known as Victim Support, who helped, alongside the prison service, facilitate the meeting.

She also paid tribute to former Magilligan Prison governor David Eagleson for being “proactive” in allowing the meeting to take place.

“It was a truth-telling process,” she said. “The prison service were very accommodating.

“I wasn’t easy on him. He wanted it to happen as much as I did. It was a major thing for him to do, but I didn’t go gentle on him. I wanted him to see my pain, but when I walked away I could see his pain because he was so open.”

She added: “I will never be the same again, never ever. Any parent who loses a child can’t be the same. But I feel Claire guided me and pushed me to do this, kept me strong, and gave me that strength to help other people.”