Thomas Herron: Pensioner with 119 motoring convictions gets suspended sentence

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Downpatrick Crown Court

A County Down pensioner who was caught driving while disqualified on 41 occasions appeared in court on Monday on further motoring offences.

Thomas Heron, 73, of Well Road in Ballywalter, was disqualified from driving for life in March 2008.

He caused a crash in September 2018 in Dundonald whilst driving to visit his partner in hospital.

The court heard that despite initial denials that he was the driver, he admitted three charges.

Heron pleaded guilty to driving whilst disqualified, having no insurance and failing to report an accident.

The judge described Heron's criminal record for driving whilst disqualified as "outrageously lengthy and relevant".

'Courts in virtual lockdown'

He attended the remote sentencing at Downpatrick Crown Court via videolink from his solicitor's office in Belfast.

He was handed an 18-month sentence, suspended for three years. The judge banned him from driving for life again.

The judge said although he was supposed to be sentenced in March, the "courts have been in virtual lockdown for the past two months," due to the coronavirus crisis.

The three driving offences occurred on the Upper Newtownards Road in Dundonald on 16 September 2018.

Three family members were in a car which was stopped in the left-hand lane at the Dunlady Road junction, when a Suzuki driven by Heron in the right-hand lane scraped against their vehicle.

Damage was caused to both vehicles, and when the two drivers got out of their cars and spoke to each other, the driver of the Suzuki said his name was Tom McCready and gave an address in Bangor.

The Suzuki driver also claimed he did not have his driving licence with him and that this vehicle was insured.

A report was made to the PSNI and when police attended the address in Bangor given at the scene by the Suzuki driver, the occupant said that had no knowledge of the vehicle or the name given.

In November 2018, Heron was stopped by police driving the Suzuki on the Bangor Road in Newtownards.

'119 convictions for motoring offences'

When interviewed by police about the September 2018 incident in Dundonald, Heron denied he was the driver.

He was then picked out in an identification procedure and later appeared in court where he admitted the offences.

The judge noted that Heron was disqualified from driving for life in March 2008 and had 188 previous convictions, 119 of which were for motoring offences.

Also noted by the judge were three further convictions for driving whilst disqualified since the life ban was imposed, which he said "brings the total for this offence to 41 - a figure unprecedented in this court".

When questioned about the September 2018 offences by a probation officer, Heron said his long-term partner was in hospital, he felt isolated, and the only other way to see her was by public transport.

Heron also acknowledged that driving that day was a "bad idea" but that he acted out of "loneliness and desperation" to see his partner in hospital.

The judge said that whilst he accepted this was Heron's motivation, the defendant was aware he was banned from driving, he "sought to evade detection" and he continued to drive after the collision.

He was given an 18-month sentence suspended for three years and the judge warned Heron about the consequences of breaching the court order.