Man who drove over Orange lilies convicted of hate crime
A delivery driver convicted of deliberately flattening Orange lilies planted outside a Co Antrim Orange Hall has been told by a judge it was a "hate crime".
Seamus Mark McErlain (54), from Dunloy, had contested a charge of criminal damage but was found guilty at Coleraine Magistrates Court yesterday.
The court heard he destroyed around 100 lilies planted beside Topp Orange Hall near Ballymoney between May 28 and June 3 last year.
In her evidence, Katherine Murphy, of Topp Rural Regeneration and Cultural Society, said the lilies were planted as part of a memorial flower bed but in May last year they noticed damage had been caused to them.
The court was told how the lilies had cost £1 each and over the period the damage occurred, it added up to over £100. Ms Murphy said the lilies had to be replaced several times before they finally installed CCTV cameras.
A prosecutor provided photos to the court that showed the same car parked on top of the flower bed on two occasions, but the number plate wasn't clear.
However, on a third occasion when the same car was captured on camera the registration was visible and police were called in.
McErlain, a self-employed courier, had pleaded not guilty.
He told the court he hadn't realised the piece of land was a flower bed and he hadn't known the building beside the ground was an Orange Hall.
He told District Judge Liam McNally he didn't know the area very well at the time.
He said he chose to park his car in that space so as not to disturb an elderly couple he was delivering to, as he had done on a previous occasion.
McErlain claimed that previously the couple's dogs had been disturbed, wakening the elderly lady, delaying his delivery times and causing the companies he delivers for to penalise him.
McErlain claimed there was nothing to identify the ground as a flower bed. He said there were no kerbs and he didn't see flowers in bloom, only what he thought were weeds. He said he had no reason to believe there were lilies planted there.
Judge McNally pointed out to the defendant that in photographs he could see a car park area beside the Orange Hall, as well as a lay-by some feet away from the flower bed, and questioned why he hadn't made an effort to park there.
Sentencing McErlain, the judge confirmed the incident was being treated as a "hate crime".
He added: "The number of times you drove over the flower bed, it was not a case of recklessness, it was a deliberate act to destroy these flowers. The act was motivated by antipathy towards members of the Orange Order."
Finding McErlain guilty of criminal damage, Judge McNally said he would give him "no credit at all" for engaging in the type of behaviour, before handing down a fine of £500.
He also ordered the defendant to pay £100 compensation for the damaged flowers.