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'no closure' Heartbroken couple vow to fight to change lenient jail sentences for hit-and-run drivers


Grieving parents of young man killed by drunk driver want NI laws to change in accordance with UK

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Martin Gallagher jnr's parents Elizabeth and Martin

Martin Gallagher jnr's parents Elizabeth and Martin

Martin Gallagher jnr's parents Elizabeth and Martin

Martin and Elizabeth Gallagher want to change the law.

The grieving Derry parents of a young man in his prime who was cut down by a drunk driver 11 years ago are still fighting for justice and have vowed to never give up.

Not a day goes past when they are not overwhelmed with their loss, Martin jnr is never far from their minds, their grief as powerful from the moment they were told their talented young son was dead.

Martin was just 25-years-old when he was the victim of a brutal hit and run in November 2009.

Such was the impact of the crash that brain matter was found on the windscreen of the car being driven by Jonathan McGonagle.

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Jonathan McGonagle pleaded guilty to the hit and run death of Martin Gallagher

Jonathan McGonagle pleaded guilty to the hit and run death of Martin Gallagher

Jonathan McGonagle pleaded guilty to the hit and run death of Martin Gallagher

Half of his face was missing meaning his parents were unable to have an open coffin at his wake.

“Martin’s brain was on the windscreen and one half of his face was gone,” his father told the Sunday World.

“I remember going to the morgue to identify him and a police officer came out and told me ‘If that was my son I wouldn’t go in there’.

"We didn’t, we didn’t want that memory but that is what that scum did to our son.

“We never even got to have an open coffin, I remember thinking is it Martin in that coffin? I knew he was but there was no closure for us, no goodbye.”

McGonagle was given a six-year sentence yet only served three years behind bars for killing their much-loved son.

The Gallaghers, alongside other families who have similar experiences, want the law in Northern Ireland to be changed in accordance with the rest of the UK, where sentences are longer in such cases.

They are prepared to go to Westminster and have begged our politicians to help them achieve their goal.

“The law has to change, it might be too late to help us but it would help others,” said mum Elizabeth.

“He (McGonagle) got into that car drunk and he took a life, our son’s life and he got three years. Is that all our child was worth?

"What message is that to send to parents, what does that say? That you child wasn’t worth that much in the eyes of the law here.

“We keep hearing that we are part of the UK but the sentencing here is much different. How can we be part of the UK when our laws here are different, the sentencing is much more lenient. I am not political, far from it, but why make a difference. Why should someone get away with three years for killing someone just because they are from Northern Ireland.”

The couple are determined to push again for change and hope that after Covid some politician will reach out and help.

“We will go to Westminster, we tried to but then any help we were promised didn’t materialise. Nobody cares, we got to the stage where there were reports but they were going nowhere, no one was or is listening.

“At the time we pushed for murder then manslaughter but we were told no that the charge was death by dangerous driving and he got the least sentence he could have got.

"It still destroys us, we never got justice and we want the law changed so other families who suffer like us can get justice, can get closure,” Martin explained.

Young Martin was mowed down on Halloween night as he made his way to a friends house for a party.

He had one foot on the pavement when McGonagle struck him and drove off.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

“He (McGonagle) didn’t even stop the car, he drove on to a party.

"When the police got to him he tried to say it was his mother driving.

"At no stage has he ever said sorry or shown any kind of remorse for what he did to this family, to me and Elizabeth or Martin’s brothers and sister,” Martin said.

In August 2019 McGonagle was given a five-month suspended sentence after appearing back in court on different driving charges.

McGonagle (33), from Marianus Park in the Hazelbank area of Derry, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, driving while disqualified, driving a mini motorcycle without insurance, failing to wear protective headgear and driving the mini motorcycle with his son sitting between his legs without proper seating.

“He was convicted again for dangerous driving and driving whilst disqualified last year and he walked away again.

"How with someone with his record get a suspended sentence? This just proves even more that the law here needs changed and changed quickly but we feel as if we are fighting a losing battle, no one cares,” the dad-of-five added.

Elizabeth says they will never get over their senseless loss. Watching her son’s friends marry and have kids adds to her pain.

“I know it has been ten years but you never get over it, people say it becomes easier but it doesn’t, it really doesn’t, you just learn to put a mask on, to hide your feelings.

"People have said to me that it’s time to forgive but I will never forgive him, I wouldn’t even want to meet him,” said Elizabeth.

“The people who say it’s better to forgive have never experienced what we have, they have never endured the grief that we have.

"He knew he was committing a crime as soon as he got into that car and put the key into the ignition.

"Three years for killing someone is nonsense, he got away with it and we were the ones who got life.

“People say there is a reason for everything but the reason for taking Martin I will never know.

"The reason why we want to get the law changed is so there is light at the end of the tunnel for us, a little but of light so we know Martin did not die in vain.”

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