Co Down man gets five years for manslaughter

A County Down man has been jailed for five years for the manslaughter of a local man he ran over with a stolen car in Dundalk town centre in 2005 following a row over alleged remarks to a woman.

A County Down man has been jailed for five years for the manslaughter of a local man he ran over with a stolen car in Dundalk town centre in 2005 following a row over alleged remarks to a woman.

Conor O'Reilly, aged 27 with an address at Kildarragh Close, Warrenpoint Road, Newry pleaded guilty in July to the manslaughter of Mr Brendan Leggett on Park Street, Dundalk on September 10, 2005.

He also admitted assaulting then Student Garda Colm Murray causing him harm on the same occasion by punching him after the two got into an argument over the alleged remarks to his sister.

When people at the scene tried to hold O'Reilly until gardaí arrived, he got into his car and attempted to drive away. Mr Leggett and another person stood in front attempting to block its exit but Mr Leggett was dragged underneath the car and seriously injured.

Mr Leggett, from Dowdallshill, was rushed to Beaumont Hospital and died four days later.

Judge Michael White was told that O'Reilly tried to commit suicide some days afterwards because he was so overcome with remorse for what he done to Mr Leggett.

When O'Reilly heard about Mr Leggett's worsening condition he drove to a secluded place and tried to kill himself by taking sleeping pills.

However, he was then contacted by his sister who persuaded him to come home but on the way he fell asleep while driving and crashed his car, resulting in a stay in hospital

Mr Derek Kenneally SC (with Mr Donagh McDonagh BL) read out a letter of remorse by Mr O'Reilly in which he said he would never forget the effect of his actions.

"It is a night I will never forget and it will haunt me for the rest of my life. All the grief and pain that I have caused does not compare to the grief felt by Brendan's family," he said.

Mr Kenneally also said that the victim impact statement made by Mr Leggett's mother had a huge effect on O'Reilly and made him realize the terrible consequences of what happened.

"He accepts that by pulling away with Mr Leggett in such close proximity was grossly negligent. There was never any intention or desire to cause harm to the victim."

Mr Kenneally said O'Reilly panicked and fled the scene. Expert evidence showed he was driving at a speed of less than one mile per hour and thought there had been contact but didn't think for a moment that he had caused serious injury to anyone.

"He said he thought he had 'tipped' one of them fellas but never that he ran over them. It doesn't excuse his leaving but there was a large crowd gathering and he had just punched a man."

"This doesn't excuse what happened but it does put it in context."

Mr Kenneally submitted that it was a fact that though through no act on O'Reilly's part, his leaving did not delay assistance to Mr Leggett. He said it was "a near-accident type of offence" and O'Reilly didn't carry a weapon to do harm, as in many other manslaughter cases.

"He may carry this as a life sentence but he will return to his life. He acknowledges that Brendan Leggett will not have that chance."

Judge White, sitting at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, said O'Reilly had pleaded guilty to two serious offences and his counsel, Mr Kenneally "in his eloquent plea" had correctly summarised the law regarding penalty in respect of manslaughter.

Judge White said O'Reilly was guilty "of recklessness to a very high degree". He didn't remain at the scene and it must have been clear to him that he had driven over some obstruction.

The judge said Mr Leggett "was not being aggressive but had acted as a concerned citizen" before he was killed. He accepted that O'Reilly who came from a decent family was genuinely remorseful but the court had to weigh up all the factors and must be mindful that it was dealing with the loss of a life.

"He hadn't intended to cause the victim any harm and didn't set out to do so," said Judge White who was told how Mr Leggett's mother, Veronica, prayed at his hospital bedside for a miracle.

Judge White said that a suspended sentence as proposed by Mr Kenneally "wouldn't be appropriate in this case which is at the upper end of recklessness". He imposed a five year sentence on the manslaughter charge and one year for the assault on Mr Murray, both to run concurrently.

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