'We will never forgive you' - Cork taxi driver jailed for psychiatrist's hit-and-run death

The judge said it was callous not to have remained at the scene of the collision.
'We will never forgive you' - Cork taxi driver jailed for psychiatrist's hit-and-run death

Denis McSweeney pleaded guilty to four charges related to hit-and-run, namely failing to give appropriate information to gardaí, failing to keep the vehicle at or near the occurrence, failing to report an occurrence and failing to stop his vehicle after an occurrence. Photo: Cork Courts Limited

A 75-year-old taxi driver has been jailed for four years for failing to stop after a fatal collision that resulted in the death of consultant psychiatrist Dr Martin Lawlor in December 2018.

Denis McSweeney was sentenced at Cork Circuit Criminal Court by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin to a term of five years' imprisonment with the last year suspended.

The judge said it was callous not to have remained at the scene of the collision.

The prison term was imposed on the pensioner despite the fact that he had pleaded guilty, stopped driving after that day and had no previous convictions of any kind.

The deceased’s sister, Dr Susan Lawlor, said to Denis McSweeney today during the sentencing hearing: “I will never speak your name following today. It doesn’t deserve the breath of air required to enunciate it.

Why did you drive away and leave him at the side of the road? Why didn’t you ring for help? All life is precious and to treat it otherwise is unfathomable to most.

“We will never forgive you for what you did, never.”

The deceased’s wife Helen Murphy Lawlor spoke on behalf of herself and her three children who at the time of their father’s death were 18, 14 and 12.

“The circumstances of his passing remain very difficult to come to terms with. Being unable to say goodbye was hard and cruel. For such a good, caring man to be left on the road to die alone and that the driver left the scene seemingly without compassion or concern, is very difficult for us to comprehend.

Helen Murphy Lawlor said by video link from the family home in Manchester“We are very happy together as a family and have beautiful memories to sustain us in our grief.

We are very proud of Martin. May he rest in peace.

Donal O’Sullivan, barrister, said the accused panicked in leaving the scene and he apologised to the family of the deceased.

The judge said that regrettably it was not panic, it was callousness on the part of the taxi driver.

Denis McSweeney of 206 Pouladuff Road, Ballyphehane, Cork, pleaded guilty to four charges related to hit-and-run, namely failing to give appropriate information to gardaí, failing to keep the vehicle at or near the occurrence, failing to report an occurrence and failing to stop his vehicle after an occurrence.

All four charges refer to the death of the 49-year-old psychiatrist. The first count states that on December 15, 2018, at Kinsale Road, Cork, being the driver of a vehicle, with a 151 registration, which was involved in the occurrence of a road traffic collision that resulted in the death of Martin Lawlor, he did fail to give on demand appropriate information to An Garda Síochána.

The deceased was a consultant psychiatrist at Carrig Mór psychiatric intensive care unit at Shanakiel, Cork, Det. Garda Brid Norris said in the course of her outline of the background to the case.

Victim Impact Statement

“We will never forgive you for what you did, never.” That was what, Dr Susan Lawlor, sister of the late Dr Martin Lawlor, said to the taxi driver who left him on the side of the road before Christmas 2018 on his return from Cork to his wife and three children in Manchester.

Denis McSweeney was jailed for four years on hit-and-run charges and Dr Susan Lawlor said to him: “I will never speak your name following today. It doesn’t deserve the breath of air required to annunciate it. Why did you drive away and leave him at the side of the road? Why didn’t you ring for help? All life is precious and to treat it otherwise is unfathomable to most.

We will never forgive you for what you did, never.

The deceased’s wife Helen Murphy Lawlor spoke on behalf of herself and her three children who at the time of their father’s death were 18, 14 and 12.

“The circumstances of his passing remain very difficult to come to terms with. Being unable to say goodbye was hard and cruel. For such a good, caring man to be left on the road to die alone and that the driver left the scene seemingly without compassion or concern, is very difficult for us to comprehend.

“We are very happy together as a family and have beautiful memories to sustain us in our grief. We are very proud of Martin. May he rest in peace,” Helen Murphy Lawlor said by video link from the family home in Manchester.

She recalled their trip from Manchester after being told of her husband’s death.

“A Saturday morning, a week before Christmas. A time of excitement for the festive season… Instead of Martin come through the door at 9.30am, I get a phone call from his brother John to let me know that Martin had been knocked down and killed by a car while walking towards Cork Airport in the early hours of the morning.

 Dr Susan Lawlor, sister of the late Dr Martin Lawlor at Cork Circuit Criminal Court today. Photo: Cork Courts Limited
Dr Susan Lawlor, sister of the late Dr Martin Lawlor at Cork Circuit Criminal Court today. Photo: Cork Courts Limited

“Myself and out three children made our lonely journey from Manchester to Cork, eventually arriving to Claramore, Millstreet, on Sunday afternoon. There we were soon to be reunited with Martin – home for the last time in a coffin.

“We will be forever grateful to family, friends and so many local people who rallied around us when they were so busy themselves preparing for Christmas. No doubt their kindness love and support kept us going.

“As a professional, Martin was at his peak, working in the HSE/NUA Healthcare and charity work in State of Mind, he was renowned and respected.” 

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin said that while he did not know him personally he knew him from his professional work. The judge said the deceased stepped into the breach in caring for vulnerable people at a time when others retreated into ego. 

He said the late Dr Lawlor went far beyond what others were prepared to do. “He was a man of considerable compassion, an exemplar of his profession. Others could well do in copying his example,” the judge said.

Ms Murphy Lawlor said: 

On a personal level, how does one put into words the loss of a son, brother, husband and father? There is no language – Jennifer lost her father at 18, Samuel at 14, and Rebecca was only 12 years of age.

“He is forever absent from the happy times - school, graduation, holidays, family celebrations. He is forever absent in difficult times of sickness, worry, loss. Every day he is thought of and loved. I will forever miss my best friend and confidante, my husband of 25 years.”

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