Monday, January 30, 2012

Wakefield crash priest in the clear

A Catholic priest who bumped into a woman’s car outside a church hall in Wakefield has been cleared of drink driving.

Charges against Canon Peter Maguire were dismissed after prosecutors failed to prove he had been drink driving in a public place.

Wakefield Magistrate’s Court heard last Tuesday that Canon Maguire appeared “unsteady on his feet” and “vacant” when he was challenged by Scarlett Hindle, who had been at a puppy owners’ club at the church hall at St John The Baptist Catholic church, Newland Lane, Normanton.

But Canon Maguire, 73, pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence - with his solicitor arguing that the incident took place on private land belonging to the church.

The court heard Miss Hindle had been attending a puppy club in the church hall on the evening of Aug 30 last year.

Giving evidence at the trial, Miss Hindle said: “After the club had finished, someone who ran it came in and asked who owned the blue Astra and I said ‘me’.”

“She said I think the priest has just hit your car.”

Miss Hindle then went into the car park and challenged Canon Maguire, who by that time was making his way into his home at the church presbytery.

She told the court he was “unsteady on his feet and seemed a little bit vacant.”

Miss Hindle said he suggested that they could sort out the superficial damage to her rear bumper between them.

But Miss Hindle called the police, who visited Canon Macguire’s home a short time later.

A statement from PC Matthew Grayson said that the priest admitted having “a couple of social drinks” and provided a positive breath test.

He was taken to Pontefract Police Station shortly before 10pm where further tests were taken and charged with one offence of drink driving and two other charges relating to his driving documents.

Although the facts of the charges were not disputed, Father Maguire’s solicitor Dennis Lofthouse told the court that they had occurred on private land belonging to the church and used by people on church business.

He said: “Only people with specific reason to go there should go there and because of that I would say it is a private, not a public place.”

Dismissing all charges, bench chairwoman Hazel Chowcar said the prosecution had not satisfied the court that the car park was open for general public use a the time of the incident.

She told Canon Maguire: “We therefore find the case not proved and dismiss all charges against you.”

Outside court, Mr Lofthouse said: “There was no evidence that he had or intended to drive on any public road. He regrets what happened. He would apologise to his congregation as he did apologise to the young lady.”