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Man jailed for car crash which killed eight people asks High Court to release him from prison

Shaun Kelly was sentenced to eight years in jail with four suspended after a crash that killed eight people in Donegal.

Shaun Kelly pictured in 2014
Shaun Kelly pictured in 2014
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

THE MAN JAILED for a car crash that killed eight people in Donegal almost seven years ago asked the High Court yesterday to direct his release from prison on the grounds he was due one-third enhanced remission.

Micheal P O’Higgins SC, counsel for Kelly, of Hill Road, Ballymagan, Buncrana, told Ms Justice Mary Faherty that with a full one-third remission, Kelly should have been already released in mid-August.

O’Higgins, who appeared with barrister Karl Monahan, said Kelly, now aged 29, had been jailed in December 2014 for four years with two years suspended. This, he said, had been doubled a year later by the Court of Appeal to eight years with four years suspended.

Solicitor Niamh Kelly, of Michael J. Staines and Company, told the court in an affidavit that Kelly’s release date, based on a remission rate of one-quarter, was due on 16 December next. Based on a one-third enhanced remission he should have been freed last Friday.

O’Higgins said the Minister for Justice had refused to release Kelly from Loughan House Open Centre, Blacklion, Co Cavan. He was now seeking to quash the Minister’s decision by way of judicial review.

Kelly is also seeking to quash the Minister’s order of February last revoking his temporary release following negative media coverage with pictures of him working on the family farm. Kelly also seeks an order directing the re-consideration by the Minister of his application for enhanced remission.

In February this year, following reports in the Irish Independent, Herald, Daily Mail, Examiner, Star and Sun about how relatives of the eight victims were unhappy that Shaun Kelly had been granted temporary release to work on his family’s farm, his regime of weekend releases was cancelled.

The court was told of some of the headlines in the newspapers that covered Kelly’s temporary release.

O’Higgins told the court there was nothing in prison legislation entitling the Minister to refuse temporary release on the basis of newspaper coverage and none of the articles indicated any danger to the safety and protection of Kelly by being granted temporary release.

He said Kelly’s mother, Pauline Kelly, took up her son’s case following cancellation of his temporary release and had been told by the Irish Prison Service that his release had led to unprecedented media attention, all of which was negative.

O’Higgins said that in order to qualify for enhanced remission, Kelly had engaged in authorised structured activity involving computers, woodwork, art, catering, laundry, horticulture and industrial cleaning.

Through his art classes he had designed, made and engraved memorial plaques to be placed on the graves of his friends who lost their lives in the accident.

In his application to the Minister for enhanced remission, Kelly stated:

I am truly sorry for my actions and the devastating losses which flowed from them, culminating in the on-going grief of the families of my close friends and my own cousin who lost their lives on that fateful night.

He said he had tried to use his time in prison positively and constructively and he believed he had put himself in a position to successfully reintegrate into society although he would always carry the burden of his actions along with the pain of all concerned.

On 11 July 2010, Kelly was driving a Volkswagen Passat which collided with a car travelling in the opposite direction driven by Hugh Friel, a 66-year-old man on his way home from bingo. Friel died in the crash, as did the seven young men who were travelling in the car with Kelly.

They were: Eamonn McDaid (22) Ballymagan; Mark McLaughlin (21) Ballinahone, Fahan; Paul Doherty (19) Ardagh, Ballyliffin; Ciaran Sweeney (19) Ballyliffin; PJ McLaughlin (21) of Rockstown, Burnfoot; James McEleney (23) Meenaduff, Clonmany and Damien McLaughlin (21) of Umricam, Buncrana.

Judge Faherty granted Kelly’s legal team leave to judicially challenge the Minister’s refusal for early enhanced release; leave to quash his decision revoking temporary release, and leave to seek an order directing the Minister to reconsider both matters.

Read: 4-year sentence for ‘worst case of dangerous driving in history of the State’ too lenient, court told

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Ray Managh

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