Defence’s anger over four-year ‘ordeal’
A father and son have been found not guilty of attacking a loyalist bandsman after the prosecution withdrew the case just as the jury was being sworn in.
Jacob Ashcroft (22) and his 57-year-old dad Alan had both been charged with two counts of assault against a member of the controversial Dervock Young Defenders Flute Band following a parade in August 2018.
The duo had been in a bar in Dervock when the alleged incident was said to have taken place.
Both had always maintained their innocence, claiming they were the victims of an attack by members of the band, which has previously been sanctioned by the Parades Commission for wearing uniforms with UFF paramilitary logos.
In 2016 the band was banned from the Rasharkin parade in Co Antrim following what the Parades Commission said was “rowdy and antagonistic behaviour” on July 12 that year.
A trial at Antrim Crown Court was scheduled to take place yesterday, but as the jurors were sworn in the prosecution said it was not proceeding.
The court was told new evidence had come to light and the test for prosecution was no longer met.
The jury was directed to find the father and son not guilty, and the two men were told they were free to go.
The details of the new evidence was not presented to the court, but it is understood alibi witnesses were spoken to by police and confirmed the Ashcrofts’ version of events.
The new witnesses confirmed they were in fact the victims of an assault, motivated by their cross-community friendships.
The family are highly respected in Ballybogey, and Alan Ashcroft is a Royal Navy veteran.
The incident occurred on the evening of the Black Saturday March.
The father and son maintained in police interviews they were the victims of an assault by bandsmen and were called “Fenian loving b******s” due to their cross-community sporting activities and friendships with Catholics in Co Antrim.
Having maintained their innocence through four years of criminal proceedings, which were delayed by the pandemic, the two were cleared of all wrongdoing.
In a statement they said they had both lost out on job prospects because of the criminal proceedings.
Alan Ashcroft, who has a clear record, failed a security check for a post he had applied for due to the pending proceedings.
Jacob is keen to follow his father into the armed services and passed with the highest marks in his group during initial training.
However, this had to be put on hold due to the proceedings.
Claire McKeegan and Sophie McClintock of Phoenix Law, who represented the defendants, said the case should never have gone ahead.
“Our clients are today finally vindicated after a four-year ordeal. From the outset they have maintained their innocence and the stance that they were the victims of a verbal and physical sectarian attack.”