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Drunk driver who killed a woman and paralysed another jailed for four years after successful appeal

Sean Casey (27) had originally been sentenced to seven years in prison.

Image: Shutterstock/yykkaa

Updated at 2.20pm

A CORK MAN who was four times over the limit when he crashed his BMW into a roundabout, killing a woman and paralysing her friend, has been given a four-year-jail term following a successful appeal.

Sean Casey (27), of Cooragannive, Skibbereen, Co Cork, had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Megan Johnston (22) and serious bodily harm to Kate Petford (24), who was left paralysed after the crash in Skibbereen on 8 April 2013.

He was sentenced at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to seven years’ imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 30 years by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin on 17 February 2014.

Casey successfully appealed his sentence in July, with the Court of Appeal finding it to be “out of line with other decided cases”.

The Court of Appeal imposed a new sentence on him today of five years’ imprisonment with the final 12 months suspended.

Speaking on behalf of the Court in July, Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan said the sentencing judge “erred in holding that this was at the absolute apex” of the dangerous driving scale, as had been submitted by Casey’s barrister Thomas Creed SC.

He was due to be re-sentenced in October. However, sentencing was adjourned on foot of a fresh victim impact report submitted by the parents of Ms Petford, who wished to detail their “abhorrence” at the proposed reduction in his sentence.

Their fresh victim impact report followed a similar move by the parents of the late Ms Johnson, in which they called for “mercy” for Casey who they believed was “genuinely remorseful”.

Mr Justice Sheehan said today that the Petfords’ letter, written by Simon Petford, began: “I write to detail my opposition and abhorrence to the proposed reduction in the seven-year sentence handed down to Mr Sean Casey in respect of his criminal culpability for drink and dangerous driving … which caused the death of my daughter’s friend Megan Johnson (and) the catastrophic paralysis of my daughter Kate…”

Attached to the letter was a four-day diary which “demonstrates in detail to this court the stark reality of daily life for Kate Petford and also the stark reality of the burden of care that now rests on her family”, Mr Justice Sheehan said.

However, he said, the views of family members cannot be decisive when it comes to determining sentence.

The letter also stated that Casey’s appeal was “entirely inconsistent” with his expressions of remorse.

The court heard on a previous date that civil legal proceedings are being taken by the Petfords.

Earlier, the parents of the deceased woman Megan Johnson had furnished a letter to the court in which they stated: “We feel that Sean Casey has served enough time in prison to make amends for what he did.

“Keeping him in prison is of no benefit to us and will not bring our daughter Megan back to us.

“We feel that Sean Casey has taken the responsibility for the devastation that came from the accident on his shoulders.

“We believe that the young man we saw being sentenced in Cork Circuit Criminal Court is genuinely remorseful. We believe that he deserves some mercy.

“We are the parents of a daughter that lost all of the rest of her life on that night we do not want him to lose anymore of the rest of his young life.”

Mr Justice Sheehan recited the general principles of sentencing in Ireland, which “some public commentary suggests”, he said, may not be as widely understood as they should be.

In cases where there had been a death, it was “sadly true” that even the longest sentence will end at some point, probably when the defendant is still young while the suffering of the bereaved was permanent.

“But that ignores the fact that under our present sentencing regime, sentences must be proportionate not only to the crime but to the individual offender,” Mr Justice Sheehan said.

Psychologist’s report

The court had regard to a number of documents submitted on Casey’s behalf, including a consultant psychologist’s report compiled after a fellow prisoner Casey had befriended was stabbed to death in his presence.

It found Casey to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. “Just as he was becoming accustomed to prison life, this incident has thrown him back to a regressive state,” the report said.

He was tearful recalling his own wrongdoings and admitted that he was putting a brave face on for family because he feels they have been upset enough, the report stated.

Mr Justice Sheehan said the court must bear in mind the principle of proportionality and the need to reconcile that principle with the aim of rehabilitation and sentences that had been imposed in other cases.

He said the appropriate starting point was a sentence of seven years’ imprisonment and the mitigating circumstances required a reduction from seven to five years.

It was appropriate to give further credit to Casey, the judge said, in light of further documentary evidence such as the consultant psychologists’s report, which disclosed how “the punitive aspect of imprisonment has gone far beyond the mere deprivation of liberty”.

Accordingly, Mr Justice Sheehan, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, suspended the final twelve months of the five year sentence.

Mr Justice Sheehan said the court did not propose to interfere with Casey’s 30-year disqualification, which he said is “going to be an ongoing punishment” and arguably “may adversely affect his ongoing rehabilitation”.

Call for stricter sentencing

Speaking outside court, Kate Petford’s mother, Joe, said her family was “pleased that at last finality has been achieved in the prosecution of Mr Sean Casey for his responsibility for the death of Megan Johnson and the catastrophic injuries caused to our daughter, Kate”.

“Our daughter’s life and our family’s life has been devastated by the actions of Mr Casey.

“We now look forward to rebuilding our family’s life and particularly the life of our beloved daughter Kate.

“Rebuilding our lives will be a slow lengthy and challenging process, and our lives and Kate’s life must now follow a different course.

“Nevertheless, we remain positive and optimistic for the future.

“In conclusion, I can only say that dangerous and drink driving have always been anti-social and irresponsible and since 1961, has been illegal.

“I take this opportunity to call for strict sentencing in cases of conviction for drink driving and dangerous driving to send a clear message that the road traffic laws cannot and should not be disregarded with impunity so that other families may be spared the devastation caused by death or catastrophic injuries on the road.”

Read: Jail term ‘unduly lenient’ for ‘worst case of dangerous driving in history of the State’

Read: Enable Ireland employee ordered to remove images of children posted on Twitter

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

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