THE mother of a West Cork girl who was left paralysed after a road crash in 2013 has called for stricter sentencing for dangerous driving and drink driving offences.
Jo Petford, the mother of Kate Petford, who was injured in a road accident which also claimed the life of her friend, said the family were now ready to start rebuilding their lives.
She told The Southern Star that her daughter ‘has been handed down a life sentence’ while the driver of the car ‘will walk away from his’.
Mrs Petford also spoke outside the court which deliberated on the appeal of Seán Casey, of Cooragannive, Skibbereen – the driver of the car on April 8th 2013.
‘Our daughter’s life and our family’s life has been devastated. 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,’ Mrs Petford said.
Mr Casey was four times over the limit when he crashed his BMW into a Skibbereen roundabouut, and this week had his sentence reduced from seven years’ jail to four years.
He had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Megan Johnston (22) and causing serious bodily harm to Kate Petford (24) who was left paralysed following the crash.
He was sentenced at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to seven years in jail and disqualified from driving for 30 years by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin on February 17th 2014.
Casey successfully appealed his sentence in July with the Court of Appeal finding that his seven-year sentence was “out of line with other decided cases”.
The Court of Appeal imposed a new sentence on him this week, 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 resentenced 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 this week that the Petfords’ letter, written by Simon Petford, commenced: ‘I write to detail my opposition and abhorrence to the proposed reduction in the seven-year sentence handed down to Mr Seán 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.
The court had regard to a number of documents submitted on Casey’s behalf, including a consultant psychologist’s report compiled after the stabbing to death in Casey’s presence of a fellow prisoner and kitchen worker Casey had befriended.
If found him to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and ‘just as he was becoming accustomed to prison life, this incident has thrown him back to a regressive state,’ it stated.
He was tearful on his recall of his own wrong-doings 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 psychologist’s report which disclosed how ‘the punative 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 is going to be an ongoing punishment’ and arguably ‘may adversely affect his ongoing rehabilitation’.
Speaking outside court, Kate Petford’s mother Jo, 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.’
She said she took the 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’.