Northern Ireland

Double death driver avoids prison over Donegal crash

Mother and baby's headstone
Image caption Kerry Ann Meehan and her baby daughter Niesha died in the crash

A man who caused the death of his 16-year-old girlfriend and baby girl in a car crash in County Donegal has been given 240 hours of community service.

Christopher Hanlon, who was 18 at the time of the crash, was to have been sentenced to two years in prison.

However, this was subsituted for the community service.

Kerry Ann Meehan, who was originally from Londonderry, and her three-month-old baby girl Niesha, died in the crash outside Letterkenny on 16 June 2008.

The car in which they were being driven by Hanlon spun out of control and hit a 4x4 towing a trailer full of sheep.

Members of the emergency services found baby Niesha under the front passenger seat.

She was taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead. Ms Meehan, who was originally from the Creggan area of Derry, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Hanlon, of Meenagowan, County Donegal, was taken to hospital with severe injuries from which he recovered.

Handbrake turns

An expert witness told the court in Letterkenny that the car's rear tyres were defective, and this was caused by excessive use of the handbrake.

A friend of Hanlon's said they had been doing handbrake turns after the Donegal Rally the previous weekend.

In a statement to Irish police, Hanlon said he knew the tyre wasn't safe, but "took a chance".

Kerry-Ann's mother Anna said photographs of her daughter and granddaughter constantly reminded her of her loss, and she visited their graves every weekend.

She cried and told the court the Meehan family belived Hanlon should receive a custodial sentence.

Hanlon told the court his failure to change the tyres was the worst decision of his life.

He apologised to the Meehan family, and said he wished he could turn the clock back and offer his life rather than that of his girlfriend and daughter.

Judge John O'Hagan said the crime of causing multiple deaths was very grave, but said Hanlon's guilty plea had saved the family further trauma.

He said that while the defendant had not intended to kill his girlfriend and daughter, he would have to live with that responsibility for the rest of his life.

But he told the Meehan family it was not his role to seek revenge on their behalf.

Hanlon was also banned from driving for eight years.