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Drink-driver who murdered student minutes after snorting cocaine jailed for life

A drug dealer who deliberately drove into a crowd of pedestrians, murdering a 22-year-old woman, has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 18 years.

Stephen McHugh had snorted about eight lines of cocaine and downed six beers and ten double shots of spirits before driving his Volvo S60 on to a footpath in Oswestry, Shropshire.

Bystander Rebecca Steer was crushed underneath the vehicle near a takeaway and died of “catastrophic” injuries, a two-week trial at Stafford Crown Court was told.

Stephen McHugh
Stephen McHugh was found guilty of murder (West Mercia Police/PA)

McHugh, originally from Fazakerley in Liverpool but living near Oswestry at the time of the killing, admitted manslaughter and assault, claiming he was trying to frighten pedestrians after an earlier altercation nearby.

Jurors deliberated for eight hours and 39 minutes over three days before convicting McHugh on Thursday of murder and trying to wound a friend of Ms Steer’s who was also knocked down.

Jurors at the 28-year-old’s trial were not told he has previous convictions related to dealing cannabis and cocaine and the seizure of sawn-off shotgun in Merseyside in 2019.

Passing sentence on Friday, Mr Justice Andrew Baker said McHugh reacted to verbal abuse directed at his erratic driving by treating pedestrians “like they were human skittles”.

Describing the murder of Ms Steer, from Llanymynech in Powys, as an outrage, the judge told McHugh: “It could so easily have been much worse for the general group on the pavement.

“For Becky Steer, as everyone in court knows, it could not have been worse.”

Rebecca Steer
Rebecca Steer in a family photograph (West Mercia Police/PA)

The judge, who ordered the destruction of McHugh’s Volvo, heard family victim impact statements telling how Ms Steer wanted to become a police detective and was in the final year of a criminal justice course at Liverpool John Moores University.

In one of the statements, Ms Steer’s mother described Rebecca as the “most loving, talented and kind-hearted person who you could have wished to know”.

The judge said of Ms Steer: “In her mother’s words she was ‘flying’ through her course and had great ambitions and a future full of potential.”

The judge told McHugh, who has never had a driving licence and made a thumbs-up gesture towards the jury as he was led away: “The fact that it was illegal for you to be driving at all even if stone-cold sober makes it even more of an outrage.

“You arrived behind the wheel driving too fast and too close to the pavement – unfit to be driving anywhere.

“You drove the Volvo into the crowd like they were human skittles.”

McHugh, of Artillery Road, Park Hall, near Oswestry, is known to have snorted cocaine less than five minutes before he drove his gold-coloured car into Willow Street at about 2.45am on Sunday October 9 last year.

CCTV shown to the court caught McHugh stopping in the road and exchanging words with a group of people near the Grill Out takeaway.

Stephen McHugh
The Volvo car used by McHugh (West Mercia Police/PA)

McHugh was arrested on Monday October 10 in Gobowen, Shropshire, and claimed he “didn’t mean to hit anyone”.

Shortly before the murder, the court heard, a man searching the boot of a car in Oswestry was left with a bloody nose by McHugh in an incident the prosecution said showed he had previously “got involved in violence”.

McHugh told his trial he was not angry with the group and reversed to get alongside them to pick up a friend.