Fatal Cookstown crash: Jury retires in 'man in road' trial

By Julian Fowler

  • Published
Bernie McNichollImage source, McNicholl family
Image caption,
Bernie McNicholl died after the car she was travelling in hit a tree in April 2015

A jury has retired to consider its verdict in the trial of a man accused of causing a fatal crash by standing in a road trying to thumb a lift.

Jonathan Ferguson, 30, from Elm Park in Moneymore, County Londonderry, denies unlawfully killing Bernie McNicholl in Cookstown, County Tyrone in April 2015.

He was walking home having consumed an "enormous" amount of alcohol on his stag do.

The driver said she swerved to avoid hitting a man on the Moneymore Road.

Denise Mackle alleged the man was standing in the middle of the road with his arms out, trying to stop traffic.

Ms Mackle's car struck a tree, resulting in Ms McNicholl's death. She was the front seat passenger.

'Ran away'

In his closing remarks to the jury at Dungannon Crown Court, a prosecution barrister said Mr Ferguson, a married postman and father of one, "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."

Instead of going to see if he could help those who were injured, the lawyer said "his actions were cowardly".

"He ran away".

Image caption,
Jonathan Ferguson, pictured at an earlier court appearance, denies unlawfully killing Bernie McNicholl

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

He said 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 there was nothing the driver, Denise Mackle, could not be blamed for over the accident and that "she did what was a normal human reaction - she did the right thing".

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. He said the jury should find the defendant guilty of manslaughter.

'Different men'

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 he 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".

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

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

Image caption,
The prosecution alleged that Jonathan Ferguson caused the fatal collision by standing in the middle of the road

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

He 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."

'Wasn't involved'

The defence barrister 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 said Mr Ferguson made "a very telling remark" when he was brought to the scene when he asked "Why are there so many police?" consistent with someone walking down the Tamlaghtmore Road.

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

"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."

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".