Former boxing champ who tried to blame innocent victim for crash gets extra 15 months jail time

A former boxing champion who tried “pinning responsibility” for a crash he caused on a woman left with “catastrophic” injuries, has been given an extra 15 months in jail by the Court of Appeal.

Sean Ward (28), with an address at Toberona, Dundalk, Co Louth, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm to Natasha Keenan (29) as well as driving with no insurance at Carnbeg, Dundalk on October 3, 2015.

Ward was driving while disqualified when he overtook a number of cars at high-speed before crashing head-on into the car of Ms Keenan, in which her 10-month-old baby was also travelling.

The former All Ireland boxing champion was sentenced to six years imprisonment with the final two years suspended by Judge Michael O’Shea on May 17, 2018.

However, the Court of Appeal held that Ward’s effective four-year jail term was “unduly lenient” today, on foot of an appeal brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

He was accordingly resentenced to six years imprisonment with the final nine months suspended. The maximum sentence is 10 years.

Giving judgment, President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said Ms Keenan was driving towards Dundalk with a view to drinking tea with friends on the date in question.

It was a clear, bright, dry day and there was a continuous white line along the road, apart from a short distance, close to the entrance of a hotel.

Suddenly, she saw Ward’s Ford Focus coming towards her at high speed. She flashed her lights, beeped her horn and swerved to avoid a collision. Despite her best efforts, the collision occurred.

'Screaming baby'

Mr Justice Birmingham said Ward had been overtaking at speed at a place that was dangerous to do so. The road was described as “undulating” and Ward’s view was somewhat restricted.

In the immediate aftermath, Ms Keenan was very concerned for the safety of her screaming baby; heightened by the fact that a large amount of smoke was coming from the bonnet of her car.

She was cut from the car and brought to Tallaght Hospital by helicopter.

Mr Justice Birmingham said there was “abundant evidence” that Ward was on the wrong side of the road and Ms Keenan was on the correct side.

Also, a number of witnesses were unequivocal and unanimous in placing responsibility on Ward.

Ward 'showed little empathy'

However, Ward initially told gardaí that he didn’t remember the incident and then gave an account which placed Ms Keenan on the wrong side of the road.

Ward was not interviewed by gardaí until 16 months after the incident, due to injuries he sustained himself.

According to a probation report, Ward “showed little empathy”, “minimised his behaviour” and “focused on his own injuries”, Mr Justice Birmingham said.

He gave the probation officer the impression that the injuries sustained by the victim were “not as serious” as documented and repeatedly stated that the “accident” was not his fault.

Mr Justice Birmingham said Ms Keenan had eight operations, some lasting 10 to 15 hours. The Court of Appeal was told that the medical procedures “haven’t taken” and she will be “reembarking” on more.

She suffered severe damage to both ankles, pins were inserted into her feet and each of her toes had to be wired. She suffered broken ribs, broken bones in her back and required skin grafting.

She had to spend a month in isolation, in order to reduce the risk of infection, which deprived her of the company of her baby.

She was told plans to expand her family would have to be put on hold and there was an issue as to whether she would be able to have children in the future at all.

Ms Keenan was still in a wheelchair at the time of sentencing, although she now uses crutches to move around, the court was told. She had to convert her three-bed home to include downstairs rooms.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kevin Segrave BL, said Ms Keenan was left with “catastrophic” injuries. He submitted that the sentencing judge "overvalued" Ward’s cooperation with gardaí.

Mr Justice Birmingham said Ward, a married father-of-two young children, came from a settled traveller background. He had 68 previous convictions.

His previous record included a hit-and-run offence as well as unauthorised carriage in a vehicle.

He said Ward had committed a significant number of public order offences including entering a building with intent to steal, obstruction of a peace officer and various offences under the theft act. He said Ward had been banned from driving in 2015 for four years.

Mr Justice Birmingham said some of the judge’s sentencing remarks were “difficult to understand”. He said the sentencing judge referred to remorse but it was hard to “square that” with the contents of Ward’s probation report.

He said the judge referred to cooperation but the Court of Appeal could see no “real level of cooperation”.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the six-year headline sentence may well have been higher but it was not so lenient that it fell outside of the available range.

However, he said the decision to suspend two years of the sentence was “not justified” and resulted in an “unduly lenient”four-year jail term.

He said Ward’s prior record, including the fact he was driving while disqualified, did not suggest he was a suitable candidate for a sentence with a significant suspended element.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Ms Justice Mary Irvine and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, resentenced Ward to six years imprisonment with the final nine months suspended.

Ward was required to enter into a good behaviour bond for the suspended period and for two years post released. He undertook to be so bound.

During counsel’s submissions, Ms Justice Irvine commented that Ward tried “pinning responsibility on the injured party” by initially telling gardaí that he was on the correct side of the roadway, and the injured party was the one overtaking.

Mr Justice Birmingham called it a “wholly false account”.

Ms Justice Kennedy commented that a person who accepts responsibility for their actions pleads guilty at the first opportunity, and doesn’t “wait for discovery” of material relevant to the prosecution’s case.

Ward’s barrister, Roddy O’Hanlon SC, said the whole thing happened “very fast” from his client’s perspective and Ward had been having “difficulty coming to terms with the reality of what happened”.

Mr O’Hanlon said Ward suffered injuries himself in the crash and he may have been trying to “rationalise” and “theorise” what had happened.

He said Ward nonetheless entered a guilty plea and expressed remorse.

Mr Justice Birmingham said Ward had lodged an appeal against the severity of his sentence before the DPP lodged an application for a review.

He said it became clear that the focus of argument was “very much” on responding or resisting the DPP’s appeal and this culminated in a request by Ward to withdraw his appeal, which was granted.

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