An north Belfast Orangeman accused of driving into a crowd gathered outside the Ardoyne shop fronts told police he believed he was going to be dragged out of his car and “pulled apart”, a court heard on Thursday.
John Alexander Aughey told police that as he sat in traffic, heard people talking about getting him and felt missiles bouncing off his car, he “immediately thought of the two corporals who had been killed” - a reference to corporals Derek Wood and David Howes, who were murdered after driving into an IRA funeral in west Belfast in March 1998.
The 63-year old, from Brae Hill Park, told police he feared for his life and was “in a blind panic to get out of the area” when a crowd began approaching the car.
He also said during interview that he was not aware he had struck anyone as he tried to make a u-turn on the Crumlin Road, and was “shocked and horrified” when officers told him he had.
Aughey been charged with, and denies, six offences arising from the incident, including dangerous driving causing grievous bodily injury to a teenage girl who became trapped under the accused’s Nissan Pulsar.
The incident occurred around 8.15pm on Monday 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.
The jury has already been shown footage of the collision and on Thursday, they heard what Aughey told officers during three police interviews conducted at Musgrave Street police station the following day.
Aughey told officers his version of events and described how he feared for his life after hearing someone in the crowd say “get him, get the B, don’t let him get away”.
The Orangemen - who was wearing a white shirt bearing Lodge markings and a Lodge tie - said he was trying to make his way home along the Crumlin Road and was sitting in a queue of traffic when he became aware of shouting and abuse directed at him.
He said a man then kicked his wing mirror, that people were “trying to wrench the doors open” and that crowds were coming towards him.
Aughey told police: “If they got me I would have been killed” and said he was left with several options - drive forward or reverse his car - which he couldn’t do due to cars both in front of and behind him - get out of the car, stay where he was or do a u-turn and drive back to police lines lower down the Crumlin Road, where he would have been safe.
Rejecting suggestions that he had his window down and was shouting at the crowd, Aughey claimed he was trying to make himself “as unobtrusive as possible” as he was in a “hostile area”.
He said he heard people in the crowd “f’ing and blinding”, and when he heard the comment about not letting him get away, coupled with objects hitting his car, Aughey said he panicked.
He decided to make a u-turn, and it was whilst undertaking this manoeuvre that he hit a crowd of pedestrians standing outside the Ardoyne shop front. One local teenager sustained serious wounds after she was hit by the Nissan and ended up under its wheels.
The jury also heard that when Aughey was told he had struck and injured a pedestrian, he said: “I’m sorry, it wasn’t my intention to hit anybody.” He said he was not aware what had happened initially and said: “I was shocked to be honest. I felt terrible about it.
“I was shocked and horrified. I was not aware I had run anybody over until the police told me.”
Aughey claimed he didn’t see the girl strike his bonnet. He also said he was “relieved and delighted” when he saw police approach him.
During interviews Aughey confirmed no-one got into his vehicle and that he was not injured during the incident - but maintained he was in fear of his life.
Saying that when he heard shouts he “immediately thought of the two corporals”, Aughey said: “I didn’t know whether a brick, hatchet or a gunshot was going to coming through the window. This is Belfast we are talking about here.”
Telling police “all I wanted to do was get home”, Aughey said he felt his life was “very much in danger”. And when asked about the u-turn, he replied: “I am convinced that if I didn’t take the action I did, I would probably be dead.”
At one point during the interview, Aughey is asked by a detective “why didn’t you stop?”, to which he replied: “Are you kidding? If I had stopped I would have been dragged out of the car and I would have been pulled apart.”
A detective constable who questioned Aughey was cross-examined by defence barrister Richard McConkey during today’s hearing, and confirmed that the defendant appeared before the court with no relevant previous convictions.
She also confirmed that when the ‘two corporals’ were mentioned by Aughey the day after the event, she was aware what Aughey was making reference to.
When asked by Mr McConkey if the reference was to two soldiers who were “dragged out of their car by a mob, beaten and subsequently murdered”, the police officer replied: “yes.”