Northern Ireland

Father 'devastated' at son's killer's jail sentence

The father of a young Northern Ireland student who was run down by a car thief has said he is "devastated" at the sentence handed out to his son's killer.

Brendan O'Neill's son, Andrew, 20, from County Tyrone died after he was hit by a car in Liverpool on 27 November 2010.

In Liverpool Court on Tuesday, David Gaskell, 21, from Everton admitted causing his death by dangerous driving.

He was jailed for nine and a half years.

But Brendan O'Neill said the sentence was not tough enough.

Mr O'Neill said his son had been "mowed down" on the street and had been robbed of his life and his future.

"I saw the screen footage of the driver in court.

"To me, he should have been jailed for the full 14 years. He mowed down my son. He threw him 40 metres over the top of the vehicle. And he jumped over a flyover to try and escape," he said.

"Before that he was stopped by the police. But he was not remorseful, he just drove on."

Image caption Andrew O'Neill was a second year student at John Moores University

Mr O'Neill said his son had moved to Liverpool to take up a course at John Moores University in September.

"He was a good lad, full of joy, laughter and happiness and he was out to do well," he said.

"He was just 20 years of age and that chance and that future has been taken away from him. Andrew was a decent person."

Mr O'Neill said he and his son were "very close".

"This has devastated my life totally. Andrew was a very good lad. He just came over to Liverpool in September. He did not make it home for Christmas. He did not get that chance."

At the trial in Liverpool Crown Court, CCTV footage of officers surrounding the car and trying to smash through its windows with batons was shown.

But Gaskell drove the car over a pavement, missing two pedestrians, before driving off at speeds of up to 50mph (80km/h) the wrong way down a one-way street.

'Bulldozed through traffic'

He struck a taxi before driving into Mr O'Neill - carrying him on the bonnet for about 40m (131ft) - and fleeing the scene.

A prosecuting lawyer told the court that in a police interview Gaskell's co-accused Lewis Gandy, 20, from Croxteth, admitted being in the car to go on a "joy ride".

He described the drive along Dale Street as "something like a video game where you swerve to avoid oncoming objects", the court heard.

Gaskell, who also pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicle taking and driving whilst disqualified, left the car and ran onto a flyover, where he fell about 20ft to the ground, breaking his leg.

Gaskell, who the court heard had previous convictions for dangerous driving, was also banned from driving for seven years.

A defence lawyer said his Gaskell was full of remorse and had written a letter to the family of Mr O'Neill in which he said: "I understand that I have devastated the O'Neill family and taken the life of a very popular young man."

But Mr O'Neill said he believed Gaskell's remorse was just a bid to get himself "off the hook".

Front seat passenger Gandy was sentenced to four years in a young offenders institution after pleading guilty to aggravated vehicle taking.

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