by Q Radio News
It had started over a drug deal gone bad, but ended in the death of young Fermanagh mum Natasha Carruthers following a 12-mile car chase on October 7, 2107, along country roads and through villages at speeds reaching up to 100mph.
And today (mon), as promised the drivers involved, Cavan man Padraig Toher, who admitted 23-year-old Natasha's manslaughter, and her boyfriend, Nathan Charles Phair convicted of causing her death by dangerous driving, were sentenced to a total of 23 years between them.
Judge Neil Rafferty QC told them that they will each serve half of their sentences in prison followed by a similar period un der supervised licence, which if broken would mean their immediate return to prison.
The Dungannon Crown Court judge, sitting in Belfast, told the pair they both "contributed to the untimely and tragic death of Natasha," which had had a devasting affect on her family who spoke eloquently of their loss.
And Judge Raffery added: "To drive at speeds and in the manner which you did on public roads displayed a deliberate, outrageous and wanton callous disregard for the safety of the public and those occupants of either car.
"That it extended over a prelonged period of approx 12.6miles simply underscores the persistence of your conduct".
"And what lay behind this behaviour?," asked Judge Rafferty, adding: "You Phair had swindled Toher in a drug deal. And that you Toher indulged your criminal desire to recover your drug money.
"The bringing of criminal grievances unto the public street to the danger of all is a significant factor in this case which in my view must attract significant deterrent sentences".
Toher from Bawnnoy, Ballyconnell, who admitted making "deliberate contact", ramming his BMW numerous times into the back of the Vauxhall, was sentencecd to 12 years, six in custody, six on licence, together with a 10-year driving ban.
Phair, nicknamed 'Panda', a self-confessed unlicenced and uninsured driver from Castlebalfour Park, Lisnaskea, who has already lodge an appeal against his conviction, was sentenced to 11 years, five and a half imprisonment, five and a half on licence. However, his driving period will be one of 15 year.
Natasha died instantly when thrown through the windscreen of her blue Coras car, driven by Phair, after it struck a tree at over 60mph on the outskirts of the Fermanagh village of Derrylin on October 7, 2017.
At the time 23-year-old Phair was trying to evade the black BMW of 29-year-old Toher, whom he's "stroked" the previous evening by making off with £440 of his money, without supplying him Cocaine, as he had in the past.
Toher had gone looking for Phair with two others, coming across him in a carpark in the village of Letterbreen, sitting behind the wheel of Natasha's Corsa. She was in the passenger seat, while in the rear was another girl, their friend.
The Cavan man, armed with a metal bar confronted Phair, demanding his drug money back, first smashing the driver's window, before whacking the windscreen. Phair claimed that frightened for his life, and in a panic, he speed off leaving behind a fuming Toher.
Throughout his trial Phair, who accepted no responsibility for the tragic death of his girlfriend, maintained that his objective was to get back to his home town to contact the PSNI. However, as prosecution counsel, David McDowell QC, pointed out, the nearest police station was in Enniskillen, six miles away, and not in Lisnaskea, over 20 miles away.
Their race along the dark country roads was caught at times on CCTV cameras. Motoring experts estimated that they were travelling at an average speed of 75mph. However, when caught on security cameras going through Derrylin, their speed had climbed to over 100mph.
Both cars were seen to stradle the middle of the road, with Toher's car making contact with the Corsa on several occasions. Phair said he was attempting to stop the BMW from overtaking him. Just seconds later, driving along a straight section of road, he lost control.
Toher readily admitted his guilt, coming back over the border to hand himself in after spending two two nights sleeping rough in his car, before eventually seeking psychiatric help at Cavan Hospital.
His defence QC Arthur Harvey had said Toher recognised from the outset his "due day of punishment would come" and that his drug medling had "brought nothing but distress and the heartbreaking consequences far beyond any intention".
Phair's guilt resulted from his conviction after two trials, one aborted for legal reasons, during which he maintained he was "not responsible" for causing Natasha's death, claiming Toher's car repeatedly nudged his as he attempted to overtake him just prior to the horrific smash.
His QC, Brian Macartney said he had"expressed genuine and spontaneous remorse" at his trial, but while the eventual jury guilty "verdict is respected, it is not accepted".
Mr Macartney said the case was "always about who caused the death of Natasha Carruthers. It has always been accepted my client never set out to harm, injure or kill anyone”.
In addition to their main sentences, the pair were each given concurrent sentences for their other offences arising out ofthe death of Natasha, who only got to celebrate one birthday with her daughter Lilly Rose.
Meanwhile, Detective Chief Inspector Eamon Corrigan made a statement on behalf of the Carruther family, outside court in Belfast:
Two men have been jailed for causing the death of 23 year old Fermanagh woman Natasha Carruthers during a high speed chase in 2017. DCI Eamon Corrigan has made this statement on behalf of her family. More on air. pic.twitter.com/ibZQtJrFMN— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) November 22, 2019
The heartbroken family of Natasha Carruthers have welcomed today's sentence and paid tribute to a "fun-loving, caring person with a heart of gold."
In a statement issued by the family, the grieving relatives of the mother of one said whilst the sentencing of Padraig Toher Nathan Phair were welcomed, no sentence imposed
"No sentence will change the fact that Natasha is dead and we as a family have to live with a life sentence inflicted on us.
"There is not a day that goes by that we do not think of Natasha and our hearts break.
"Natasha died from horrific injuries resulting from the selfish actions of Padraig Toher and Nathan Phair. Her death has impacted on our entire family.
"Natasha was a much-loved mother, daughter, sister, granddaughter and niece. Natasha was a fun-loving, caring person with a heart of gold.
"Natasha's daughter Lily-Rose had just turned one when her Mummy was killed. She will never know her Mum. All she will have is photos from when she was a baby. We will never be able to replace the love of her Mummy.
"We would like to recognise and thank numerous people who have helped us in our quest for justice for Natasha - the neighbours who heard the crash and came to help; the police, ambulance and fire service who attended and tried to help Natasha; all those who assisted in the police investigation and also our thanks to all the witnesses who attended court."
Also welcoming today's sentence was Detective Chief Inspector Eamonn Corrigan. Speaking outside Laganside, he said: "On the 7th of October 2017 Padraig Toher pursued Nathan Phair for over 12 miles at speeds reaching 100 miles per hour.
"The driving of the two males was dangerous, reckless and they did now show any consideration for the safety of themselves, their passengers or members of the public.
"What was this over? It was over a failed drugs deal. Nathan Phair had agreed to provide drugs to Padraig Toher and had taken £440 cash off him and not supplied the drugs. This is what caused this dangerous pursuit.
"As a result, there was an inevitable collision and Natasha Carruthers died. Her injuries were horrific. This has destroyed her family. She leaves behind a young daughter, Lily-Rose, who will never get to know her mother.
"Padraig Toher, when presented with evidence, accepted responsibility for his involvement in this incident and we acknowledge that he pled guilty at at early stage.
"Nathan Phair has never shown any remorse for his involvement in this incident. Not only was he driving whilst under the influence of drugs, in the days following the incident he posted on social media that he would get a good claim from the incident - completely despicable behaviour.
"I hope two thing come from today's sentencing. One that a clear message is sent to anyone who will drive dangerously or recklessly on our roads, is it worth it? Somebody could die, you will be held accountable for your actions.
"And secondly I hope that the sentences today give some small measure of comfort to Natasha's family."