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Analysis: Aughey sentencing a reminder of a now settled parading dispute

John Aughey had pleaded not guilty to the dramatic car crash that left a teenage girl and a number of other people, including three police officers, injured on July 13, 2015.

However, his defence argument - that he believed he would be killed by the crowd of nationalists at Ardoyne in north Belfast -was rejected by a jury of his peers

Judge Patricia Smyth in sentencing the senior Orangeman pointed to the unique circumstances surrounding events of that day, when the car he was driving ploughed into a crowd of people, trapping Phoebe Clawson beneath the wheels.

The leading Orangeman, dressed smartly in a suit, kept his head down throughout the hearing, closing his eyes as the sentence of one year in prison and one on licence was passed.

The fact he arrived without a bag or any belongings indicates he thought a suspended jail term was likely, and the judge did say she had considered it but deemed such a sentence unsuitable in the circumstances.

I covered the parade on July 13, 2015, and watched as the John Aughey's car was lifted off Phoebe Clawson's broken body.

She wasn't moving, her limbs twisted at an impossible angle and I - like most of those there that day -feared the worst.

Until then there had been no trouble at the interface.

Violence was instead expected a short distance away at Woodvale, where the annual return parade was stopped as a result of a Parades Commission ruling.

The mood following the crash was tense, you sensed it could erupt into violence at any time, in what Justice Smyth rightly pointed out yesterday was a "hostile" situation.

There were none of those injured on the day present in court yesterday, all had previously given evidence and submitted victim impact statements, the Orangeman, who sat in the dock flanked by two security guards was accompanied by just a few family members.

The court was almost empty, there were neither supporters nor opponents of the veteran loyalist to fill the public gallery.

 

Parading in north Belfast is all but settled. This summer was the most peaceful in many years, there were no crowds gathered in Ardoyne unlike previous years.

The fact no one was more seriously injured by John Aughey's reckless actions two years ago was more by fortunate accident than design, the judge in passing down a relatively light sentence, took that into consideration.

As the 63-year-old starts his jail term this case will stand as a reminder of how volatile parades disputes can be and the very real dangers and divisions that occur when they remain unsettled.

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