Orangeman who ran over crowd is decent and non-sectarian, lawyer tells court

John Aughey the driver of a car which ran over a teenage girl on Crumlin Road, north Belfast
John Aughey the driver of a car which ran over a teenage girl on Crumlin Road, north Belfast

A Crown Court judge was handed references “from both sides of the community” for an Orangeman who drove into a group of people at a Belfast flashpoint.

John Alexander Aughey was found guilty by a jury in June of injuring pedestrians as they stood at the Ardoyne Shop Fronts on July 13, 2015.

The 63-year old, from Brae Hill Park, was due to be sentenced on Friday for six offences including causing grievous bodily injury to a 16-year-old girl who was struck by Aughey’s vehicle and became trapped under the vehicle, resulting in fractures to her collarbone, pelvis and ankle.

While the Crown suggested Aughey should received a prison sentence of between four and five years, his legal team argued that he acted in fear, and should be given a sentence of between 12 and 18 months.

Judge Patricia Smyth, who presided over the trial in June, adjourned the matter at Belfast Crown Court in order to allow her to consider submissions by both the Crown and defence.

Amongst the submissions she received were testimonials and references, which defence barrister Greg Berry QC said were from “a range of people within Northern Ireland from both sides of the community.”

He said: “There is an idea that the incident was sectarian, but these references will scotch any views that Mr Aughey is sectarian.”

Mr Berry said that the high profile case had attracted accusations that Aughey was a “rampant bigot and sectarian”.

This accusation, Mr Berry said, “could not be further from the truth”.

Telling Judge Smyth that the references would show Aughey as a “hard-working, decent, non-sectarian man”, Mr Berry said: “Mr Aughey is a man who is a member of the Orange Order.

“He is a fairly visible and well-known prominent Orangeman, and in fact is proud of that – but like all right-thinking members of the Orange Order, he is not sectarian.”

Mr Berry also told the judge that the references included people who encountered Aughey socially and in a work context.

During the trial, the jury was shown CCTV footage of the incident, which occurred around 8.15pm on July 13, 2015.

Tensions at the interface were heightened on the evening in question after a Parade Commission’s determination banned an Orange lodge and flute band from returning past the nationalist Ardoyne shop fronts area.

As Aughey was making his way home in his Nissan Pulsar, his vehicle stopped at traffic lights.

Denying he deliberately drove at the crowd of pedestrians, Aughey instead made the case that as he sat in traffic on the Upper Crumlin Road, he became aware of abuse and shouting coming from the crowd in his direction.

He said that after a missile hit his car and his wing mirror was kicked, in a “blind panic” he tried to perform a u-turn to get back down the Crumlin Road “to the safety” of police lines.

However, he drove into the crowd and injured six people – including the teenage girl, police officers and a community worker.

Aughey’s version of events was rejected by the Crown, who said his actions behind the wheel where “somewhere far up the list... in terms of dangerous driving.”

Crown prosecutor Neil Connor QC said the consequences of Aughey driving into a crowd of people would have been “glaringly obvious” to any driver. Mr Connor also told the court: “He maintains the position that he was unaware he collided with anyone. We say that seems to be a difficult assertion to maintain.”

Saying it was the Crown’s case that Aughey should be handed a sentence of around four to five years, Mr Connor added Aughey’s criminal record was “minor and of considerable vintage.”

Aughey’s barrister spoke of his client’s health issues – which include diet-controlled diabetes and kidney problems – and also revealed he is a carer for his wife, who is also in ill-health.

Mr Berry told Judge Smyth that the incident has had a profound affect on Aughey, who is both deeply remorseful and regretful for what occurred, adding “it has never been out of his mind”.

The barrister also said Aughey acted the way he did due to fear for his life, and said: “Without the fear, we wouldn’t be here. It’s as simple as that.”

Regarding sentencing, Mr Berry said the case was “factually unique”, and asked the judge to consider a sentence of between 12 to 18 months.

After listening to submissions from both the Crown and defence, Judge Smyth said: “I want to take some time to give careful consideration to all the points that have been made.”

Aughey was released on continued bail ahead of sentencing, It has not yet been determined when this will take place.