A 61-year-old member of the Orange Order who is accused of attempting to murder two females in Ardoyne was released on bail yesterday – despite police concerns that his release could spark further unrest in the area.
John Alexander Aughey, from Brae Hill Park in the Ballysillan area of the city, was arrested after his car struck several pedestrians – including a 16-year-old girl – as they stood at the Ardoyne shopfronts.
The incident occurred on Monday evening during heightened tensions in the flashpoint area.
Two females sustained injuries, the youngest of whom suffered multiple injuries including a shattered pelvis after she was trapped under Aughey’s car before the vehicle was lifted off her by local residents and police at the scene.
Aughey appeared in the dock of Belfast Magistrates’ Court, where he faced two charges of attempted murder. He spoke once to confirm that he understood the two charges against him.
A PSNI detective sergeant said police were objecting to Aughey being released on bail for a number of reasons, including a risk to the public, a fear that his release could spark further tensions in the flashpoint area, and a concern that Aughey would commit further offences.
Outlining police objections, the officer said that tensions at the notorious north Belfast interface “remain high” and that Aughey regularly attended the loyalist camp at Twaddell Avenue.
So prominent a figure is he, the policeman said, that he gave an interview to the BBC last October when he spoke of a precarious situation and local people’s anger.
The sergeant told the court: “Police believe this man is committed to pursuing the protest at Twaddell.
“If he is released on bail, it could lead to widespread serious disorder in Belfast.”
The officer said this in turn could lead to risks not only to police but also members of the public.
In addition, the officer expressed concerns about Aughey’s own safety, should he be released.
Saying “the defendant has already been identified on social media”, the detective sergeant said that due to Aughey’s high profile, he has already been warned about “his own personal safety”.
A solicitor representing Aughey told the court: “At the outset, this is a matter which is highly regrettable and profoundly regretted by the defendant. He has made that clear to police.”
The solictor spoke of his client’s age, his ill health, which includes ongoing treatment for cancer, and his wife’s ill health.
He also told District Judge Fiona Bagnall that it was “highly unlikely these offences will remain as the charges before the court” as he was initially arrested on a less serious charge of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily injury.
The solicitor also described his client as a “law-abiding citizen” whose last appearance in court was over three decades ago for a defective tyre.
Saying Aughey “is not going to go out and commit further offences”, the solicitor asked that he be released on bail to live at an address outside Belfast.
Mrs Bagnall agreed to release Aughey on bail but imposed conditions that he had to abide by – including not going within 500 metres of a “procession, protest or parade”.
He was also banned from entering north Belfast and banned from getting behind the wheel of any vehicle.
Aughey was ordered to appear before the same court in four weeks’ time.