Lesley-Ann McCarragher family ‘devastated’ as hit-and-run driver’s sentence reduced

The family of a teenager killed by a hit-and-run driver in Co Armagh almost three years ago say they are “devastated” after his sentence was reduced on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 2:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 3:37 pm
Lesley-Ann McCarragher
Lesley-Ann McCarragher

Nathan Finn is to have his nine-year sentence for causing the death of Lesley-Ann McCarragher reduced by a year, the Court of Appeal ruled.

Senior judges held that the original term imposed on Finn for causing the death of Lesley-Ann in Armagh three years ago did not give credit for his lack of previous convictions and genuine remorse.

With next week marking the third anniversary of the student’s death, the McCarragher family described how their pain is still raw.

Lesley-Ann's family leaving court on Wednesday

“That pain has been exacerbated by the cruel decision today to allow her killer’s sentence to be reduced,” the statement said.

Claiming Finn has never shown any genuine remorse, the family branded his regret “self-serving”.

“Clearly little value has been placed on the life of our Lesley-Ann,” they said.

“There is an urgent need to review the sentencing framework to ensure that effective deterrent sentences are delivered.

“The system is very clearly slanted toward the offender. Victims - and those left behind to grieve in their absence - fall very low on the list.”

The statement added: “The parting comment of the appeal judge that no sentence will ever bring Lesley-Ann back or lessen our pain is entirely true, but is no excuse for justice to be so weighted in favour of offenders.

“Our hearts have been broken again.”

The ruling, which also took into account decisions reached in previous cases, means Finn, 20, will now serve four years in jail and the same period on licence.

Lord Justice Deeny acknowledged the offender’s “appalling driving” had led to the 19-year-old student’s death in April 2016.

He said: “No sentence imposed by the courts on the applicant can bring her back, or lessen her absence for her grieving family and friends.

“It is the duty of the court to dispassionately consider the justice of the sentence for the offences committed in the light of all the circumstances and the previous decision of this court.”

Relatives of the victim appeared shocked, with some in tears following the verdict.

Miss McCarragher was jogging along the Monaghan Road when Finn’s Saab car stuck her and then failed to stop.

Despite being airlifted to hospital she died from her injuries.

Finn, of Keady Road in Armagh, initially denied all charges against him, but later accepted causing death by dangerous driving and driving without a licence or insurance.

A man who was behind the wheel of another car pleaded guilty to dangerous driving in connection with the same incident.

The pair were racing when Finn, then aged 17, drove aggressively onto the hard shoulder in an undertake manoeuvre, striking Ms McCarragher and throwing her into the air, according to a witness.

Following the fatal collision other motorists stopped to lend assistance, the court heard, with some of the approaching the window of Finn’s vehicle and shouting at him.

Panicking over having no licence, he drove off and headed to a nearby address where he hid the car in a shed.

Later that day Finn denied owning the Saab or driving, telling police that he had sold the car on.

It took almost two weeks before he admitted being behind the wheel and said he was sorry for what he had done.

Appealing the original nine-year term handed down, defence lawyers accepted it had been a sustained and prolonged episode of bad driving in the category of the most serious culpability.

However, they argued that the sentence was manifestly excessive.

Counsel for Finn contended that the mitigating factors of his previous good character and genuine remorse were not recognised.

The prosecution countered that Finn had been deliberately racing another motorist and determined “not to be beaten”.

A Crown lawyer told the court: “Young men must appreciate that driving at this atrocious, appalling level, that has to stop.”

Delivering judgment in the appeal, Lord Justice Deeny held that the sentence was “out of kilter” with prison terms imposed in other fatal driving cases.

He also backed defence submissions on the failure to give credit for significant mitigating factors.

Confirming the new sentence of eight years, the judge said: “Half is to be served in custody, the maximum allowed by legislation, and half on licence.”