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Driver who knocked down and killed man while using mobile phone escapes jail

Co Derry man Robert Whyte has been given a suspended prison sentence. He is pictured at a court hearing in Antrim earlier this year

A DRIVER who was using his mobile phone when he knocked down and killed a prison officer has escaped going to jail.

Antrim Crown Court Judge Brian Sherard told 44-year-old Robert Whyte there were "exceptional" factors in the case that had led him to impose a ten month prison sentence, suspended for three years.

Whyte, from Drumbane Road in Dungiven, was phoning his wife when he struck and killed Jason Walsh (42) in Limavady in October 2016.

The father-of-two had left his own car with a mechanic and was walking back to the town with his dog when the collision happened on the Glenhead road.

The judge yesterday said the mobile call was not "front and central to the case", adding it seemed likely the collision "would’ve occurred in any event".

Another factor was the potential impact of an immediate prison sentence on Whyte’s two sons, both of whom have medical difficulties.

"There's a growing body of opinion that questions the benefit of short periods of imprisonment," he told Whyte, who sat in the dock with his head bowed throughout the hour long hearing.

"It was those two factors which persuade me that this is an exceptional case and that the sentence ought to be suspended," he said.

As well as the suspended jail sentence, Whyte was banned from driving for a year.

He had pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving at an earlier hearing.

Judge Sherard told Mr Walsh's widow, Gillian Walsh, that she and her entire family had the "sincere condolences" of the court and that her late husband "was clearly a very valuable member not just to your family but to the community".

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