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Banned driver under terror threat bailed as case stalls

By Alan Erwin

Published 03/11/2016

'Despite being told the 28-year-old is under paramilitary threat, a judge ruled yesterday that he is to be released from custody due to a 'bewildering' hold-up in the case'
'Despite being told the 28-year-old is under paramilitary threat, a judge ruled yesterday that he is to be released from custody due to a 'bewildering' hold-up in the case'

A banned motorist accused of ramming a police car amid efforts to arrest him for "doughnut-spinning" near the Ulster Grand Prix has been granted High Court bail.

Stephen O'Neill also allegedly struck out at officers as they smashed windows in the BMW he was driving in a bid to seize the ignition keys.

But despite being told the 28-year-old is under paramilitary threat, a judge ruled yesterday that he is to be released from custody due to a "bewildering" hold-up in the case.

Mr Justice Treacy said: "There hasn't been any satisfactory reason given for the delay."

O'Neill, of Abbeyglen Crescent in Newtownabbey, faces charges of dangerous driving, two assaults on police, driving while disqualified and resisting arrest.

The court heard officers were called to Sycamore Road in Dundrod, Co Antrim, on August 12 -close to the circuit for the Ulster Grand Prix motorbike races being staged that week.

It was claimed that O'Neill was behind the wheel of a BMW performing doughnut manoeuvres while the car's owner stood watching nearby.

Prosecution counsel Kate McKay said the car was driven at speed directly at a PSNI vehicle, colliding with it despite attempts to take evasive action.

During a second alleged attempt to ram the police car officers tried to open the locked driver's door on the BMW while its engine was revving and rear wheels spinning, the court heard.

Mrs McKay said batons were used to smash the windows and take the keys amid fears O'Neill was trying to escape. During the struggle he allegedly struck one officer on the arm and punched another to the head.

O'Neill was said to have admitted the driving offences but denied assaulting or resisting police.

He claimed the constables rammed his car and smashed the windows before he could get out.

Mr Justice Treacy was told that O'Neill, who previously lived in west Belfast, is under a "viable" threat from paramilitaries.

But the judge decided that could not be used as a reason for keeping him in custody. He also dismissed explanations for a hold-up being based on outstanding police statements.

"If there's prosecutorial delay the consequences of that will often be people getting out on bail who shouldn't be," the judge said.

Releasing O'Neill on conditions including a curfew, electronic monitoring and a £1,000 cash surety, he warned of the consequences of any breach.

Mr Justice Treacy told the accused: "You have got one chance. Take it, otherwise you will go back into custody."

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