Belfast Telegraph

Jonathan Ferguson found not guilty of causing Tyrone crash that killed Bernie McNicholl

A Moneymore man has been cleared of manslaughter in landmark trial which had alleged his presence on an unlit road caused a car to swerve, mount an embankment and smash into a tree.

The car’s off-side took the full force of impact, and front seat passenger Bernie McNicholl died instantly. The accused always insisted he was never on the road.

The trial at Dungannon Crown Court, understood to be the first of its kind, lasted just over two weeks.

Jonathan Ferguson (30) of Elm Park always denied unlawfully killing Mrs McNicholl on 12 April 2015.

She was travelling home from a night out with friends, in a car driven by Denise Mackle, with another passenger in the rear.

Ms Mackle drove onto the Moneymore Road, Cookstown at around 2.30am, when she encountered a male standing in the unlit road, with his arms out, trying to stop traffic.

With no time to brake, she swerved, entered a verge and collided with a tree. Mrs McNicholl died instantly from head trauma, whilst Ms Mackle and her rear passenger also sustained injuries.

The prosecution argued Ferguson’s actions caused danger, leading to Mrs McNicholl’s death, although not intentionally.

Ferguson had been on his stag-night, and afterwards tried unsuccessfully to get a taxi home. Heavily intoxicated, he decided to walk while continuing to ring for a taxi.

On the way, he claimed to have stopped and fallen asleep at a gateway, only discovering there had been a collision when approached by police. He denied being at the scene of the incident or playing any part in the circumstances leading to it.

Witnesses described seeing light from a phone screen in the darkness, with one saying it was “moving quickly along the side of the road.”

One of the first officer’s on the scene also spotted this and having made his way to the light, discovered Ferguson holding his phone.

Prosecution counsel Conor Maguire QC contended Ferguson was the male on the road, putting it to him, “You stepped out of the darkness in dark clothing. What she did was avoid killing you. You saw her swerve and hit a tree and knew at the time it was your fault.”

Ferguson denied this stating: “I was never on the Moneymore Road in the first place … I was never there.”

He was shocked by the incident but insisted “It was not my fault.”

Mr Maguire had asserted 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. His actions were cowardly. He ran away … this 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.”

But defence counsel Jim Gallagher QC said the incident was “undoubtedly a tragedy” but a guilty verdict would “create a second tragedy.”

Jury deliberations began on Tuesday reconvening on Wednesday when Judge Stephen Fowler QC advised the required time had lapsed for a unanimous verdict and he could now accept a majority.

The jury returned shortly after with majority verdict of not guilty.

Ferguson became emotional in the dock, grasping the railing, then gulping a glass of water before walking from the court.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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