Northern Ireland

Banned driver 'drove through' Belfast 11th night bonfire crowd

Coolfin Street bonfire
Image caption The incident happened at a bonfire in Coolfin Street

A banned motorist broke a disabled woman's leg after driving through a crowd of 11th night revellers, a Belfast Crown Court jury has heard.

The court was told Brenda Henning was knocked out of her wheelchair after the car sped off down the Donegall Road in the early hours of 12 July 2010.

Newtownabbey man Dean Nesbitt, 31, denies causing her grievous bodily injury by dangerous driving.

Mr Nesbitt told police a crowd swarmed his car prior to the incident.

Prosecuting lawyer Ian Tannahill said Mr Nesbitt, from Carn Rise, had already pleaded guilty to driving whilst disqualified and claimed that on the Crown case, the jury would be left in "no doubt" as to Nesbitt's guilt for causing Ms Henning's injury.

Opening the case, the lawyer described how Ms Henning, who suffers from Guillain-Barre syndrome which causes her immune system to attack parts of her own nervous system, was in her chair along with a crowd of people watching the bonfire at the back entrance to the City Hospital.

Mr Tannahill said it would come as "no surprise" that most of the people attending the bonfire had been drinking, telling the jury how the gold-coloured Rover driven by Mr Nesbitt came to be surrounded by some of the crowd at around 01:00 BST.

"It's clear that some of the things they were shouting were sectarian in nature," said the lawyer.

He added that witnesses would testify that the Rover "nudged forward" at first but then "accelerated up the Donegall Road at speed with the engine revving," driving through the crowd and striking a number of people, including Ms Henning.

Girlfriend's claim

She was to spend a number of weeks in hospital, including a period in intensive care and undergoing surgery after her leg was broken in two places.

The day after the impact, said Mr Tannahill, Mr Nesbitt's girlfriend Frances Notorantonio handed herself into police claiming to be the driver and saying she was surrounded by a crowd in the Sandy Row area.

However, Mr Tannahill said the incident happened at the junction of the Donegall Road and Coolfin Street, not Sandy Row and witnesses had told police there was only a man in the car at the time.

Mr Nesbitt was arrested on 28 July and during interviews, said he had been driving to his pregnant girlfriend's house after she had complained of stomach pains.

He claimed when he got close to the bonfire "my car just got swarmed, kicking bits off it", members of the crowd shouted sectarian remarks and threatened to burn his car.

Mr Nesbitt further claimed that in "panic" he drove off "as slow as I could" and told police he could not remember seeing anyone in front of the car.

Mr Tannahill told the jury that one of the issues they would have to decide is whether or not the situation Nesbitt claimed to be in was such that it permitted him to drive the way he did to save himself.

The trial continues.