Belfast Telegraph

Weeping killer driver Kurtis Armstrong who caused deaths of friends Graeme Waring, Ian Currie, Philip McMurray and Joseph McDonald fails to get driving ban lifted

By Nevin Farrell

A killer driver who caused the deaths of four of his "best" college friends in one of Northern Ireland's worst road accidents wept in court today during a failed bid to get a driving ban lifted.

Kurtis Armstrong (31) crashed off the Ballyhill Road near Templepatrick in County Antrim in February 2004 and was the only survivor, escaping with just a broken collar bone and bruises.

Graeme Waring (17), Ian Currie (18), and 19-year-olds Philip McMurray and Joseph McDonald were killed.

Philip McMurray and Ian Currie were both from Banbridge, Graeme Waring from Lisburn and Joseph McDonald from Belfast.

Armstrong told police at the time that as a 'restricted' driver he had only being doing 45mph and he had been distracted by one of the passengers but expert prosecution witnesses said Armstrong must have been driving at over 100mph when he careered off the road.

In 2008 after being convicted of causing death by dangerous driving he was jailed for seven years and banned from the road for 12 years.

But eight years into the ban he was applying to the court for his licence to be restored early.

At Antrim Crown Court on Wednesday a letter was read out which was signed by the families of the four young college friends who had died objecting to Armstrong, who got out of jail in 2011, getting his licence back early.

Barrister Nessa Fee, representing the PSNI, said police also objected to the application.

She told the court that at 12.50pm on February 24, 2004 a very serious road traffic accident happened on the Ballyhill Road near Templepatrick when a passing lorry saw a young man - Armstrong - coming out of a hedge row as bodies were "strewn around" an accident scene and passing motorists stopped to help before the emergency services arrived.

She said it appeared death was instantaneous.

Ms Fee said the four men who died were all friends at Lisburn Institute of Higher and Further Education.

Ms Fee said Armstrong received a broken collar bone and minor bruises.

Armstrong entered the witness box saying he accepted the verdict of the jury in his trial and that he accepted he was responsible and was remorseful.

He said: "I have a family now. I have had time to reflect," before he broke down and had to leave the courtroom for a time.

Armstrong of Ivy Hill in the Mullaghglass area near Lisburn, County Antrim, was banned from driving for 12 years in 2008.

However, after eight years he was seeking his licence back early so he could potentially drive in connection with his family's limousine hire business for refuelling and mechanical work but said he would not be actually driving clients people like young people to formals.

Judge Desmond Marrinan QC on Wednesday refused the application to restore the licence early due to the seriousness of the crash and he noted the trauma suffered by the victims families had "burned deep".

Ms Fee said on the day of the crash Armstrong, who was not insured, was driving a white Vauxhall Corsa car and after leaving Lisburn College around noon called at a scrapyard in Hannahstown to look for car parts before going on to the Ligoneil area.

She said Armstrong, who was studying construction, lost control of the vehicle which had its springs modified. He had bought the car three days earlier for £1,000.

Ms Fee said Armstrong had committed other road traffic offences in the period running up to the crash.

She said the car was "ripped to pieces" in a crash an expert witness said was caused while the vehicle was driving over 100mph.

She said the police attitude was that this was "one of the worst accidents they have seen in Northern Ireland".

Ms Fee said Armstrong's bid to get his licence restored had caused "further injury" to the feelings of the families of the deceased pals.

She said they were "shocked and upset" and were concerned at the possibility that Armstrong could perhaps drive young people to formals as part of the limo business and they said there was an "apparent lack of remorse" by Armstrong.

The families said they felt "most strongly" that restoring Armstrong's licence would send out the wrong message particularly as road safety campaigns were particularly aimed at young people.

Armstrong's barrister Damien Halleron said he accepted it was a difficult application and said his client is "remorseful now for what he has done. He accepts the decision of the jury."

He said four families had lost their sons who would never be brought back and he said Armstrong, now a father, appreciates their loss.

Mr Halleron said the law says licences can be applied to be restored as early as half way through a ban.

He said Armstrong's father James (61) is retiring from a mothballed limousine business due to ill-health.

He said they had waited until now to make the application because they didn't want to "throw it back in the face of the families".

Jim Armstrong told the court his son had been a "typical teenager interested in girls and cars" but now has a partner and a three-year-old child and had received counselling as the boys he killed had been "his close friends, his only friends" at the time.

Jim Armstrong said he acknowledged the effect the accident had on the families of the deceased boys and said although he wanted the driving ban lifted so his son could help drive limousines to garages and car washes he said Kurtis would not be able to drive groups in the car as he would need a PSV licence and would be unable to get one.

He said he would not have been happy with his son driving young people around, in any case.

He said Kurtis tries to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible and although he lives in Lisburn he does not go out to local pubs and now has family responsibilities of his own.

Mr Armstrong added: "He was a boy and now he is a man".

The court heard that although Kurtis Armstrong had showed remorse for what he had done during an interview with a Probation officer, the PSNI lawyer Ms Fee said as far as the families of the victims are concerned he had never admitted he was to blame for the crash.

Entering the witness box, Kurtis Armstrong said he accepted the decision of the jury and that he was responsible and he had expressed remorse.

He broke down and after sipping water he was only able to add: "I have a family now, I have had time to reflect" as he was left the courtroom weeping.

Armstrong's barrister Mr Halleron said his client has been rehabilitated and has paid his dues to society.

Ms Fee urged the judge to give consideration to police objections and the letter of objection from the families.

Rejecting the application, Judge Marrinan said it was one of the most serious road accidents in Northern Ireland, the results of which had been "catastrophic".

He said James Armstrong said his son is now "much more mature" but the judge said he also had to take into account the view of the victims' families.

The judge said the loss of life in the tragedy "begs the question at what age should we allow young people to get behind a tonne of metal and drive on our roads".

He said Armstrong had shown recklessness not just on the day of the accident but before and said he did not admit his responsibility until after a second trial.

He said the trauma of the families had "burned deep" and given the seriousness of the crash he said he was rejecting the application to restore the licence.

Armstrong left the court without speaking to reporters.

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