CHILD MANSLAUGHTER SENTENCE DUE TODAY
Tuesday, 12 February 2013
A NEWRY man who admitted causing the death of a child with his speedboat at Cranfield beach in 2010 looks unlikely to face prison after the city's Crown Court was warned that such a move could trivialise the little boy's loss.
Damien McCann of Sandy Hill is due to be sentenced for the manslaughter of six-year-old Stuart Wilson at noon today (Tuesday).
The Rathfriland schoolboy died in Daisy Hill Hospital days after being struck by McCann's speedboat on the August 30 Bank Holiday Monday in 2010.
The accident happened after McCann failed to see either the boat that was towing the little boy behind it on a "kneeboard", or the child himself. The 37-year-old kept his eyes cast to the ground, while Stuart's mum Heather, dad Gary and sister Ashleen stared grimly ahead, as yesterday's (Monday's) sitting of Newry Crown Court heard an outline of events leading to his death.
It was told that McCann had set the trim on his speedboat improperly, causing his view to be obstructed. It heard that he was on a "perpendicular" course to the speedboat that was towing Stuart, which had the right of way, when he collided with either the tow-rope or the little boy himself - which of the two remains unclear to this day.
McCann took evasive action in time to prevent a collision with the other boat but too late to save Stuart, who, the court heard, he did not see at any time.
The father-of-five, who had two of his own children on board his boat during the accident, later pleaded guilty to the child's manslaughter by gross negligence due to his failure to keep adequate lookout. Speed was not a factor in the death, the court was told.
After hearing submissions that McCann should be given "considerable credibility" for his admission of culpability "from the very outset", the court was also reminded that, but for a technicality brought on by the type of boat he was steering, McCann would have been tried under Section 58 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which carries a maximum custodial sentence of two years.
The court's attention was drawn to the 2006 Greenhill Trawler tragedy, which saw its sole survivor, skipper Conrad Zych, sentenced to a year's imprisonment for the manslaughter of two crew members after the vessel hit rocks near Ardglass harbour. The court was told that Zych had a higher culpability than McCann due to his having left the helm unattended for 10-30 minutes in bad weather conditions. It was also reminded that Zych had not accepted his culpability until "a very late stage".
It was highlighted to the court that McCann has no previous relevant convictions and that he had pleaded "from a position of relative strength from a defence point of view". Psychiatric and probation report findings that he is suffering deep remorse and moderate to severe depression as a result of his role in the tragedy were also stressed to the court.
“This is not remorse built on self-pity," defence said. "This is remorse built on feeling sorry for others."
The psychiatric report's conclusion that prison would be detrimental to McCann was also pointed out. Telling the court it should take into account a "triangulation of interests" - the public's, the family's and the defendant's - defence asked Judge Kevin Finnegan to consider whether imprisonment would "mark the loss of the family" and cautioned that to impose a short sentence, in keeping with the guideline cases, could trivialise their loss.
Telling the court he did not wish to make a "spur of the moment" decision, Judge Finnegan adjourned sentencing until today, remanding McCann in custody in the interim.
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