A north Belfast Orangeman has denied lying to police in the aftermath of a collision at an interface which left a teenage girl seriously injured.
John Alexander Aughey took to the stand at Belfast Crown Court, where he revealed he is “still having nightmares” about the events of July 13, 2015.
He also said he believed he was going to be dragged out of his car and killed by a crowd of nationalists.
Aughey – who the court heard had been parading on the afternoon of July 13, 2015 – has been charged with six offences arising from a collision close to the Ardoyne shop fronts, 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 with tensions at the interface heightened on the evening in question.
An earlier Parades Commission determination banned an Orange lodge and flute band from returning past the nationalist Ardoyne shop fronts area.
The 63-year-old, from Brae Hill Park, has denied driving deliberately at the crowd. He instead makes the case that as he sat in traffic on the upper Crumlin Road making his way home, he became aware of abuse and shouting coming from the crowd in his direction.
He said that after missiles 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.
As he took to the stand, Aughey was shown footage from several angles of his turning in the road and striking the pedestrians. Six people – including police officers, a community worker and the teenage girl – were struck by the Nissan.
When asked why he didn’t just get out of the car and walk a matter of yards to a police Land Rover, Aughey said: “If I had got out of the car it would have been tantamount of committing suicide.”
The accused said that while he had no recollection of the impact, his actions were motivated by saving his own life.
Saying that after his wing mirror was kicked and something was thrown at his car, he heard someone in the crowd say ‘get him, don’t let the B get away’.
Aughey told the court: “That scared me even more because I realised then how vulnerable I was to attack. To me that was chilling and knocked me into a blind panic.
“I thought the crowd would get me and drag me out of the car or damage me while I was sitting in the car.”
Describing himself at this point as “extremely scared, extremely frightened” Aughey said he intended to perform a U-turn and get back to police lines. It was during this manoeuvre that the collision occurred, during which the teenager was thrown onto Aughey’s bonnet before being flung to the ground and run over.
Under questioning by defence barrister Greg Berry QC, Aughey denied he was aware he had struck anyone whilst carrying out the U-turn. He told Mr Berry he was “shocked and horrified” at what occurred, and revealed he still has nightmares and remains on medication as a result.
This claim was rubbished by Crown barrister Neil Connor QC, who accused the defendant of lying to police two years ago and lying to the jury now.
When Mr Connor questioned why Aughey’s window was down when he turned his car – which the barrister said would have been “a bit like driving in a lion enclosure at a safari park” given the fear he claimed to be in – Aughey said he believed his window was up, and denied he had been shouting at the crowd.
Mr Connor accused Aughey of lying about striking those who were injured. When it was pointed out he knocked a community worker “clean off her feet” while a second female hit his bonnet, Aughey replied: “Everything from when I began the turn, when I heard the shouting about getting him, don’t let the B get away, up until I stopped the car is a total and utter blur to me. I don’t really recall anything that happened.”
Mr Connor also accused Aughey of lying about his knowledge of the presence of police officers. The prosecutor said that given the multitude of police Land Rovers lined along the Crumlin Road, it was inconceivable to suggest he was unaware how close officers were on the ground.
When the prosecutor suggested that he could have got out of his car and walked a matter of yards to a police Land Rover, Aughey replied: “The reality was I didn’t think there were any police within a close distance.
“If I had got out of the car, it would have been tantamount to committing suicide.”