Former Tyrone policewoman jailed for road death

Dungannon Courthouse
Dungannon Courthouse

A drunken off-duty policewoman who careered into one car, while forcing others to take "evasive action" before ploughing head-long into the path of another, causing the death of a 49-year-old father of two was sentenced to nine years.

Dungannon Crown Court heard that 41-year-old Elish MacSherry of Brookmount Heights, Omagh, at least twice over the legal drink drive limit, was travelling at speeds of between 83 and 54 mph at the time of the fatal smash which claimed the life of Paul Mills on October 10 2015.

MacSherry, who claims to remember nothing of being drunk, or of the crash on the Clanabogan Road on the outskirts of Omagh, was also banned from driving for at least 15 years, had pleaded guilty to charges ranging from causing death by dangerous driving to drunk driving.

Prosecution QC Ciaran Murphy said had MacSherry stopped after the first collision in which the drunken police's Saab's car sheared off the wing mirror of a Peugeot car, then Mr Mills would be alive today.

Judge Neil Rafferty told MacSherry hers was a persistent and serious bad piece of driving and given the amount of alcohol and prescription drugs in her system she should not have been behind the wheel of a car.

The Dungannon Crown Court judge who added later that road deaths were "a blight on many families in this jurisdiction", also told MacSherry that while taking her previous service for the community into account: "It makes it all the more painful that as a serving police officer should have known the heart break this sort of irresponsible behaviour brings to undeserving families".

Judge Rafferty said it was quite clear from victim impact reports that the death of Mr Mills had left his family devastated and their heartache colossal.

Reading from the report submitted by his wife Anne, she said it was bad enough to be told her husband was in road accident, but then the heart ache and nightmare to learn he was dead in hospital, where she had to identify his body.

Worst was to come, she added, as she had to go home and "tell my two children they father had been killed, the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life, and the screams of one, and the quite sobs of the other will stay with me for the rest of my life.

"In that moment their idyllic and carefree childhood was brought to an abrupt end by a person who should never have been driving that night".

Earlier Mrs Mills, sitting in the public gallery just yards behind MacSherry in the dock, listened as defence QC Frank O'Donoghue apologised on behalf of his client who has since resigned from the PSNI and given up drink.

Mr O'Donoghue acknowledge that the Mills family had suffered greatly and would continue to do so because a young life of a much loved husband, brother and family man had been lost, and a life which, he said "should never have been lost".

MacSherry, said the lawyer accepted full responsibility for what occured and wanted to offer her deepest regret and most fulsome of apology that she can.

It maybe, said Mr O'Donoghue that MacSherry, who from the outset said she had no recollection of events that tragic night, could have fallen asleep at the wheel of her car, given the description of witnesses who the horror crash.

She had left home, he said, with no mobile phone, no purse and in her sleepwear, slippers, pyjamas, and dressing gown, driving toward Dromore, outside Omagh, for no apparent reason.

The court heard MacSherry had just driven about half a mile from her home when she reached the main road. The driver of a Peugeot car reported a black car barring down on her on her side of the road, after the car in front swerved to the left.

Telling her mother in the passenger seat, "they're coming for us", she too swerved off the road only to have the wing mirror cut from the car, which smashed into her side window.

Other vehicles were also forced to get out of MacSherry's way as he continued on down the wrong side of the road. Witnesses said it did not appear as erratic driving. However one witness said she was "driving at a wild speed" as it careered down the carriageway.

The witness, like others then described hearing a loud bang and seeing "debris and smoke being thrown into the air ... it was like an explosion", as MacSherry smashed head-on into Mr Mills' Toyota Yaris".

MacSherry will serve four and a half years in jail, with a further on supervised licensed, which Judge Rafferty would involve a number of statutory conditions, any beach of which, will see the shamed former policewoman back behind bars.