Northern Ireland

Belfast bonfire hit-and-run accused feared for his life

A man accused of a hit-and-run collision at an 11th night bonfire feared he could suffer the same fate as two soldiers dragged from their car and killed in Belfast 20 years ago, the High Court has heard.

Dean Nesbitt's lawyer rejected any suggestion that he drove at revellers.

He disclosed that Mr Nesbitt was himself a Protestant.

Sixteen people were injured when a car drove through a crowd at Coolfin Street in Belfast on 12 July.

Mr Nesbitt, 30, of Violet Street in the city, is accused of causing grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving, failing to stop or report an accident, driving while disqualified and having no insurance.

During a bail application the court was told his car was surrounded as it moved through the area of the bonfire.

Sectarian abuse was allegedly shouted in at him.

Defence counsel Conor O'Kane argued, however, that it was never previously disclosed that his client is from a working-class, Protestant, loyalist background.

Strong case

"The whole suggestion seems to have been that he deliberately drove at these people and caused these injuries," the barrister said.

"This man has no difficulty or animosity towards people attending bonfire celebrations."

Mr O'Kane insisted that it was only after Mr Nesbitt's car was surrounded that he drove off in fear for his life.

A comparison was made with the harrowing killings of the two corporals who were killed after driving into an IRA funeral in 1988.

Mr O'Kane said when he read the papers it reminded him of "the sad case of the two British soldiers surrounded in west Belfast".

He added: "That's what was going through his (Mr Nesbitt's) mind."

Bail was refused, however, despite his submissions.

The judge, Mr Justice Hart, said: "There is a strong prima facie case against this man of committing serious offences."