Northern Ireland

Blackout woman Mary McLaughlin has sentence doubled

A woman who blacked out and killed a young mother-of-two in a car crash has had her jail term more than doubled.

Judges in the Court of Appeal ordered Mary McLaughlin, 47, to serve 10-and-a-half months behind bars after declaring the original sentence unduly lenient.

She must also complete the same period on licence once released from prison.

McLaughlin, from Dillons Avenue, Newtownabbey, was convicted of causing the death of Rebecca McManus, 27, by dangerous driving in October 2010.

She was also found guilty of causing grievous bodily injury to four other people in the car she collided with at a motorway roundabout.

Earlier this year, McLaughlin was given a 15-month sentence at Belfast Crown Court, split between five months in jail and the rest on licence.

She was also banned from driving for 10 years.

The director of public prosecutions, Barra McGrory, challenged the sentence, arguing that it should be tougher.

McLaughlin suffered a blackout at the wheel of her car at the M5 roundabout in Newtownabbey. She crashed into a car carrying five friends from the nearby Northern Regional College.

Higher culpability

Rebecca McManus was in a back seat and was killed instantly.

The other occupants suffered serious injuries. Witnesses said McLaughlin was slumped over the wheel and, following the accident, confused and asking what had happened.

The prosecution case argued that she continued to drive despite knowing she suffered from no-warning blackouts.

The mother of three told the court that she would never have driven if she did not feel safe to do so.

She claimed that despite suffering from repeated blackouts since 2004, a medical condition that resulted in her being medically retired from her finance job at the Northern Trust, she had come to know the warning signs of an oncoming attack.

In court, Mr McGrory said her sentence should be increased, pointing to misinformation she gave about her condition as showing higher culpability.

'Enormous consequences'

McLaughlin's barrister argued that his client believed she could drive safely.

But Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with Lord Justice Coghlin and Mr Justice Maguire, identified two aggravating factors: the serious injury to other victims as well as the death, and the defendant driving while knowing she was suffering from a medical condition which significantly impaired her ability.

"No sentence can begin to reflect the enormous consequences of the loss of a young mother who had everything that life could offer to look forward to and the disruption to the lives of those injured," Sir Declan said.

Ruling that the original term imposed was unduly lenient, however, he said sentences were supposed to be a deterrent.

Sir Declan held that a 21 month sentence was appropriate and said: "We substitute a sentence of 10 and a half months in custody and the same period on licence."

McLaughlin showed no emotion as she was led out of court to be returned to jail.