A County Tyrone man who permitted two young children to drive an HGV which he filmed and placed online, has avoided imprisonment, despite the offences being committed while he was under a suspended sentence following a conviction for harassment.
The boys, one aged six and the other eight-years-old, drove the vehicle on the M1 Motorway near Dungannon, while the defendant filmed them as he sat in the passenger seat, then posted this online.
The defendant, who is aged in his forties but cannot be named to protect the identity of the children, initially denied charges of child cruelty by wilful ill-treatment and neglect, exposing both boys to unnecessary suffering or injury to health.
He further denied aiding and abetting dangerous driving as well as aiding and abetting driving while disqualified by age, along with dangerous driving on his own account during the incident on 6 September 2020.
In June last year the defendant appeared in the dock of Dungannon Crown Court entering not guilty pleas to all.
However, during a review last month, a defence barrister asked for his client to be re-arraigned on three counts, which were accepted.
These involved one count each of child cruelty, dangerous driving and aiding and abetting a child to drive dangerously.
A prosecution barrister advised the guilty pleas were acceptable and the remaining matters could be left on the books.
The court heard police swooped after the video was widely shared on social media showing one boy in the driver seat steering the lorry while the younger child stood behind him in the cab.
The footage also captured the motorway and other traffic using it at the time.
Judge Brian Sherrard adjourned the case to allow for the preparation of pre-sentence reports and on return today (Thursday) told the defendant: “You clearly placed these children and other road users at very considerable risk of harm. Your actions demonstrated extreme irresponsibility. You allowed these boys to drive and you filmed this, placing one of the videos online, which led to a police investigation.”
He noted while the prosecution was principally around child cruelty, this was on the basis of neglect or failure to protect from harm, which “was not prolonged and may be considered to represent a lapse in judgement. While you created enormous risk, fortunately no actual harm resulted.”
Nonetheless, he continued: “The children, unfortunately but inevitably are aware of this matter, and are worried by the outcome. That’s hardly surprising given your decision to both record and broadcast your offending, undoubtedly aggravating this matter.”
It emerged the defendant was subject to a suspended prison sentence for harassing an ex-partner imposed just months before the latest offending occurred. He also a previous record for numerous driving matters, some of which were dealt with by disqualifications.
While Judge Sherrard felt custody was merited, he added: “To imprison you would provoke actual harm to the children, when it is felt the offending did not.”
Instead, he ordered the defendant to carry out 240 hours Community Service and did not activate the existing suspended sentence, but ruled it is to be extended by a further two years.
In conclusion Judge Sherrard imposed a 16 month driving ban, stating: “Disqualification is inevitable bearing in mind the extreme stupidity and irresponsibility of your actions, which you repeated and posted online.”