No licence for ex-boy racer who killed four friends

24-02-2004: The car the four young men had been killed in about six miles outside Belfast.
24-02-2004: The car the four young men had been killed in about six miles outside Belfast.

A judge has refused to restore the driving licence of a former boy-racer who killed four friends in a 100mph smash in 2004 in what was described as one of Northern Ireland’s worst car crashes.

Judge Desmond Marrinan told 31-year-old Kurtis Armstrong that whilst he was a changed and more mature person, “in the overall context and particular seriousness of this case”, he did not think “it would be just” to interfere with his original 12-year driving ban.

24-02-2004: The car the four young men had been killed in about six miles outside Belfast.

24-02-2004: The car the four young men had been killed in about six miles outside Belfast.

A remorseful Armstrong, of Ivy Hill on the outskirts of Lisburn, was jailed for seven years in May 2008 for causing the deaths of his friends during a lunchtime spin to show off his new ‘hot hatch’ car.

He wanted his driving licence back to help out “in the family limousine business”.

However, the Antrim Crown Court judge said while he believed Armstrong was to take over the business from his ailing father, he was being sought to “re-energise this company” which had not been a viable trading company for some years.

Judge Marrinan said that as a result “the core of the case (Armstrong’s) has not been made out”.

Earlier he’d listened as Armstrong’s father James, describe his son as a changed person, saying “he was a boy (then), now he’s a man”.

A tearful Armstrong told the court: “I have a family now... and I have had time to reflect”.

Armstrong was only 19 when he caused the deaths by dangerous driving of his friends Graeme Waring (17), Ian Currie (18), and 19-year-olds Philip McMurray and Joseph McDonald on February 24, 2004, just three days after buying the white Vauxhall Corsa SRI car.

They were returning to the Lisburn Institute of Higher and Further Education, where they were all students, when a speeding Armstrong lost control of the vehicle as it went up Wolf Hill in Ligoniel and down Ballyhill Road near Belfast.

The car flew through the air after it crossed a verge and landed in a field where it smashed into trees, uprooting one of them, before landing on its roof.

Judge Marrinan said Armstrong’s failure to accept responsibility for the crash should not be confused with the clear remorse both he and his family had expressed to probation at the time, and that he is not the same person then, and his character now is nothing other than decent.

The court, he said, should also take into account other factors, such as opinions of the relatives, “who have strong, and understandable views of this matter”.

The relatives of the four young men, said the judge, have never recovered from the loss and terrible consequences and waste of such young lives.

He added that while it was a matter for the Asembly and not the courts, “it begs the question at what age do we allow are young people to get behind a ton of metal and drive on our roads”.

Earlier lawyer Nessa Fee, objecting to the application on behalf of the PSNI, said at the time, ‘R’ driver Armstrong, claimed he was doing only 45mph at the time of the accident, while an expert had estimated he’d been travelling in excess of 100mph.

Ms Fee also revealed that Armstrong also has convictions for driving without due care and attention, failing to stop and report an accident and driving without insurance, and that the families said they were “shocked and upset” on hearing of Armstrong’s application.

Defence lawyer Damien Halleron said Armstrong accepted the verdict of the jury and had expressed his remorse for causing the death of his then only friends, that can never be brought back, and the devastation it caused their families.

Mr Halleron said that Armstrong, a father of one, was now “a man who has been rehabilitated through the system and who has paid his dues”.