A heartbroken mum has hit out at the UK legal system after a driver who killed her three-year-old daughter in a crash was given his licence back early.
Amy Dutil-Wall tragically lost her daughter Estlin, three, after a horrific car crash in County Clare, Ireland, on 15 March 2017.
The crash was caused by truck driver Senan O’Flaherty, 66, who was heading in the other direction to Estlin and her dad Vincent Wall. The pair were driving from their home to Estlin’s creche in nearby Inagh when Mr O’Flaherty pulled out from behind a bus, causing Mr Wall’s car to mount a grass verge and lose control.
The crash left Mr Wall with “lifelong” traumatic brain injuries and he is now longer able to work, meaning Amy now has to be a full-time carer for her husband. Estlin also suffered catastrophic injuries and sadly died several days later at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital in Dublin, and her organs were donated to save two other lives.
Mr O’Flaherty was initially fined €1,500 (around £1,300) and issued a four-year driving ban in 2020 after pleading guilty to charges of careless driving causing death and careless driving causing serious bodily harm.
The Court of Criminal later ruled that his sentence was too lenient and instead imposed a 16-month suspended sentence. The driver has since had his licence restored a year early, leaving Ms Dutil-Wall, 39, feeling like her daughter’s killer “has had more sympathy” than Estlin.
Mr O’Flaherty’s licence restoration decision came weeks before the sixth anniversary of Estlin’s death, which happened just twelve days before her fourth birthday.
Ms Dutil-Wall said: “It’s very disappointing that there’s not stricter laws around. People often call it a car accident, as if there’s no one to blame. But there are cases like this where drivers consciously choose to drive dangerously - and the people who face the consequences for people like that are us or Estlin who lost her life.
“He should have a full year left on his driving ban, but because he’s in his 60s, lives alone, has health issues, needs to drive to get to appointments and has no income because he can’t drive for work his appeal was successful.
“We weren’t allowed to have any say on the day. It was upsetting to sit in court and watch people sympathise with him when Vincent hasn’t been able to work or drive since then either but there’s no cure for that.
“The entire process is maddening for victims. Sympathy has always seemed to lie with him because he’s an old man and lives alone, but we don’t see how any of those factors have anything to do with the fact you took someone’s life."
Mr Wall, 44, has been left with a traumatic brain injury which “will be with him for the rest of his life”, and has caused him to experience intense anxiety and ongoing memory loss. The couple, who live in Ennistymon with their two other children Mannix, six, and Lucie, two, but they rarely leave the house as it is where her husband “feels safe”.
‘He’s never apologised’
Ms Duti-Wall is now calling for stricter rules for those who are convicted for unsafe driving following the court judgement, and said she feels “frustrated” with the justice system.
She said: "When the judge made his decision I remember seeing red, there was so much anger. He said he wouldn’t reinstate the licence until after the sixth anniversary, but then I shouted ‘can you at least wait until Estlin’s tenth birthday?’ before walking out. We’ve always had a sense of injustice for her and the entire series of events that led to the crash that day lie solely in the lap of that man.
“Throughout the process he’s never apologised or expressed remorse. When I’ve met other people who have lost loved ones in crashes, the person responsible has always felt remorseful and felt as though they should pay penance for their actions.
“But we’ve never had that experience, and that really adds to the grief and anger because it makes you feel like this person doesn’t care at all about a small child that died. We feel helpless, so much of the process we haven’t had a say and Estlin doesn’t get to speak for herself.
“To watch him take the stand for appeal and express how awful his life is for suffering the consequences of his driving when we don’t get to express how much pain we’re in seems unfair. We feel very strongly about speaking out about our frustration with the justice system because we don’t want other families to feel like the loss of their child doesn’t matter.”