Family of Mary Rutherford tell her killer: 'This will be on your conscience for ever'
IN a wood-paneled courtroom, Nikita Ainley looked composed as she stood to hear her fate.
She remained impassive as the prosecution outlined how she had caused the death of grandmother Mary Rutherford, 68, by using her mobile phone behind the wheel of her car.
Just a few feet away, Mrs Rutherford's daughter, Dawn Timmings, 44, watched from the upstairs gallery with tears in her eyes, clutching the hand of a friend.
As Ainley, 20, was led away to begin her sentence, Dawn was left with only memories.
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"It hurts because I've lost everything," Dawn said. "It's a big hole in my life. Speaking about it makes me feel fragile and vulnerable but it's the right thing to do."
Defending Ainley, barrister Heidi Cotton told the court she deeply regretted the pain she had caused.
"The defendant is a young woman who was incredibly frightened of the circumstances in which she found herself," Ms Cotton said.
"The remorse is real, the remorse is heartfelt. The fear is real also."
But Dawn, a former probation officer, said she had struggled to see any sign of remorse from Ainley during the court appearances leading up to the sentencing.
Ainley maintained her innocence until she finally admitted causing death by dangerous driving on the day her trial was due to begin.
Judge Stephen Ashurst told her she could have saved Mrs Rutherford's family a great deal of heartache by admitting her guilt earlier.
"You've found it difficult to come to terms with what you've done," he said.
"The pain of others might have been eased had you come to terms with matters earlier and not entered your plea at the 11th hour.
"The loss to Mrs Rutherford's family is a permanent one.
"You will have on your conscience for ever the fact your driving caused another person to lose their life."
When the judge passed sentence, Ainley let out a deep sigh. She will serve three and a half years in a young offenders' institute.
Ainley has also been banned from driving a car for five years.
In the rows behind her in the public gallery, her friends wept as she was taken away to start her sentence behind bars.
Judge Ashurst praised the "quiet dignity" of Mrs Rutherford's family and.
Outside court, lead investigator Inspector Mark Hughes said: "Today, someone has got a three-and-a-half-year sentence but the family have got a life sentence.
"The obvious grief and trauma is impossible to calculate."
Blinking back her tears as she left the courtroom and walked back out into the chilly December sunshine, Dawn remained calm, steadied by her determination to pick up the pieces of her old life.
But something will always be missing.
"My mum was a constant in my life and I will never, ever be able to see her again," she said.