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lenient sentence Appeal Court jails man previously given community service for dangerous driving causing serious harm

The sentencing judge had said that the only reason he was sparing the Galway man jail was the “exceptional level of charity” shown by one of the two victims of a car crash caused by the defendant

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Galway Courthouse

Galway Courthouse

Galway Courthouse

A 'grossly dangerous' driver who was given community service after he caused serious injuries to a father and son will be jailed after the Court of Appeal found that his sentence was unduly lenient

The sentencing judge had said that the only reason he was sparing the Galway man jail was the “exceptional level of charity” shown by one of the two victims of a car crash caused by the defendant.

Niall Conneely (48) of Siadhean, Spiddal had pleaded guilty at Galway Circuit Court to dangerous driving causing serious harm and to driving without insurance. He admitted causing the car crash that left father and son Sanghodara and Manoj Kataram with serious injuries, which still affected the younger man at the time of sentencing in January.

Manoj Kataram (29) suffered life-changing injuries but asked the sentencing court for leniency for Conneely, saying “time is the only thing we can’t earn back”.

The court had heard that the serious crash had taken place on the evening of October 27 of 2018 at Park East, Spiddal.

An eye witness told gardai that Conneely’s vehicle had veered across the white line onto the wrong side of the road and collided head on and at speed with the other men’s car.

The younger victim was unconscious when gardai arrived and all three people were taken to University Hospital Galway, where blood samples were taken from both drivers.

Mr Sanghodara Kataram tested negative for alcohol, but the sample taken from Conneely could not be tested as it had congealed. However, he told gardai that he’d had two pints of lager at lunchtime. He also admitted driving uninsured.

Medical reports provided for the court showed that Manoj suffered severe abdominal injuries including a ruptured abdominal wall, severe contusions and lacerations to his spleen.

He also suffered damage to his spine, bruising of the lungs, and a fractured sternum and collarbone.

His father also suffered severe abdominal injuries and 10 fractured ribs.

Both father and son read victim impact statements to the court in January.

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Manoj, a biomedical student, was undertaking a Master’s degree at university at the time.

He described his stay in hospital after coming out of an induced coma.

“I wish I had died rather than endure such pain,” he said.

His physical injuries have caused him years of suffering and he has required follow-up surgical procedures.

Despite this, Manoj said that he wanted Conneely to reform and be better.

“Time is the only thing we can’t earn back,” he said. “So I don’t want any other human being to lose time.”

Mr Kataram Sr said that he still experiences “anxiety and dread” at the sight of ongoing traffic when driving. He has also been deeply affected by the impact this has had on his son.

“To see my son suffering has been unbearable,” he said. “He suffered much more serious injuries than me.”

He said that he and his wife still worry about Manoj ever returning to full health.

Conneely gave evidence too at his sentencing.

 “I’m so sorry,” he testified. “I can’t say in words how sorry I am.”

“I’m so thankful for what he said,” of his victim’s statement. “I don’t know that I would be able to say it.”

Judge Rory McCabe described his driving that day as “grossly dangerous”.

Taking his guilty plea and ‘genuine’ remorse into consideration, he said a four-year prison sentence would be appropriate.

However, on hearing the victim impact statement of the young student, he said he would order Conneely to perform 240 hours of community service in lieu of the four years.

“In the absence of the charitable attitude of the principal injured party I would have been reluctant to suspend any part of the sentence,” he remarked.

“I’m mindful that justice must be viewed through the prism of the victims, not just the public,” he added.

He said that Manoj had shown an “exceptional level of charity” in his plea for mercy.

However the DPP appealed against the leniency of this sentence to the Court of Appeal on Thursday.

Geri Silke BL argued that this was not an appropriate case for community service.

Conneely’s barrister, Paul Flannery SC, described the sentence hearing as exceptional, and quoted excerpts from the victim impact statement.

Court President Justice George Birmingham noted that sometimes a victim might want the judge to ‘throw away the key’, but that this could not be determinative.

“I’m not sure that if a victim is extraordinarily charitable, that can be determinative either,” he said.

The court took some time to consider the case and found the sentence to have been unduly lenient.

Justice Birmingham, who sat with Justice Patrick McCarthy and Justice Isobel Kennedy, then resentenced him to four years in prison, but suspended the final three.

Conneely, who was present remotely, entered a bond to be of good behaviour for those three years and also undertook to present himself to Salthill Garda Station on Monday next.

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