Fatal Cookstown crash: Accused 'knew he was responsible'

By Julian Fowler

Bernie McNichollImage source, McNicholl family
Image caption,
Bernie McNicholl died after the car she was travelling in hit a tree

A jury has been told that a man accused of causing a fatal car crash by standing in a road to try and thumb a lift knew "from the first second" that he was responsible.

Jonathan Ferguson denies unlawfully killing Bernie McNicholl.

She was a passenger in a car which struck a tree on the Moneymore to Cookstown Road on 12 April 2015.

The court has heard Mr Ferguson, from Elm Park, Moneymore, had taken an "enormous" amount of alcohol.

This was during the 30-year-old's stag do.

The driver, Denise Mackle, said she had swerved to avoid hitting a man standing in the middle of the Moneymore Road, with his arms out, trying to stop traffic.

The car struck a tree resulting in the death of the front seat passenger Ms McNicholl.

In his closing remarks to the jury at Dungannon Crown Court on Monday, a prosecution barrister said Mr Ferguson "didn't attempt to do the right thing".

"He knew from the first second this happened it was trouble for him, he was responsible, and he wasn't going to face up to that responsibility," he added.

The lawyer said that instead of going to see if he could help those who were injured, Mr Ferguson's actions were cowardly.

"He ran away," he said.

He said what happened "could happen to anybody who decided to stand in front of a car at 50mph on a dark road, who wanted to stop a car".

The lawyer added that Mr Ferguson's explanations in key aspects of the case were: "I don't know. I can't be sure. It's a bit of a blur."

He added that the defendant's account of falling asleep on the Tamlaghtmore Road at the time of the crash "does not make sense" and was relevant to his credibility.

He said the driver, Denise Mackle, could not be blamed for the accident and that "she did what was a normal human reaction".

"She did the right thing," the lawyer added.

Image caption,
The crash happened on the Moneymore to Cookstown road

The lawyer said there was no evidence of anyone else being on the Moneymore Road at that time.

The prosecution accepted that the defendant had "no intention of causing a danger, of causing a crash" but "what he did was endanger people on the road by his actions".

It was this unlawful action that led to the death of Ms McNicholl, he argued, and that the jury should find the defendant guilty of manslaughter.

A defence barrister told the jury that Mr Ferguson did not have to give evidence in the trial but "he chose to face the music" and be cross-examined in court.

The lawyer said "what happened on that road undoubtedly was a tragedy" but told the jury "if you wrongly convict a defendant for having caused that tragedy, you add to the first tragedy by creating a second one".

'Red herring'

He said Mr Ferguson's case was that he was not on the Moneymore Road where the accident occurred.

The lawyer said witnesses had described seeing three different men and "not one puts Mr Ferguson on the Moneymore Road on the night of the incident".

He described the evidence of a police sergeant who said he saw Mr Ferguson rubbing his elbow as he sat in the back of a police car as "a complete and utter red herring".

The lawyer said the prosecution case was that the defendant had been struck by the wing mirror of a car travelling at 50mph causing the mirror to break off and land in the road.

Yet he said there was "not even a mark on Mr Ferguson".

"How can a car hit someone with that degree of force and leave absolutely no mark?

"If Mr Ferguson was struck by that wing mirror of that car at 50mph he is simply the luckiest man in Ireland to be hit with that car in the way described and to have absolutely no injury."

Image caption,
Jonathan Ferguson denies unlawfully killing Bernie McNicholl

The lawyer said the timings of a man seen on CCTV walking along the road were "a perfect fit for the account he had given", placing him where he was found beyond the scene of the crash.

He added the accused made "a very telling remark" when brought to the scene in the aftermath, asking "why are there so many police?"

The lawyer said the defendant's mobile phone record showed he was "on the telephone constantly phoning for taxis before and after the time of the crash so he could not have been involved".

He said it was "no surprise" that all the evidence in the case points away from Mr Ferguson because "he simply wasn't involved in the collision".

"We say the complete absence of any injury, and fibres, any witnesses, any forensic connection whatsoever, that can never represent proof beyond all reasonable doubt."

The jury will return on Tuesday, when they will consider their verdict.