An Armagh man who was on his way to court to be sentenced for the manslaughter of his neighbour has been involved in a road traffic collision.
Brian Anthony Nicholl, of Ballynahone Close, was travelling to Newry Courthouse this morning (Wednesday) when he was involved in the collision in the Markethill area.
The news was relayed to His Honour Judge Gordon Kerr KC after the 52-year-old, who is charged with the manslaughter of Nigel Burgess in April 2020, had been summoned to the dock.
The court heard that the defence counsel’s instructing solicitor had happened upon the accident.
Geraldine McCullough, prosecuting, informed the court that Mr Burgess’ family were in attendance in the courtroom.
Judge Kerr, addressing the family of the deceased, said: “It appears that Mr Nicholl has been involved in a road accident and is likely to be on his way to hospital. He cannot be sentenced in his absence. It’s unfortunate but sometimes these things happen.”
He listed the sentencing hearing for next Wednesday.
Nicholl pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge just before going to trial.
And last Wednesday, after hearing lengthy submissions from the prosecution and defence, Judge Kerr adjourned sentencing until today (Wednesday), in order to go over written submissions from the defence.
Outlining the background to the case, the prosecution said the incident had taken place in a car park at Ballynahone Close shortly before 10.30pm.
Prosecuting counsel said another neighbour had seen Mr Burgess in the car park, with this neighbour stating the deceased had “taken to observing his movements”.
The neighbour phoned the defendant to inform him Mr Burgess was in the car park and Brian Nicholl came out of his home.
“There was then an initial verbal confrontation involving the defendant and the deceased. Brian Nicholl then threw a punch … and a fight ensued during which Brian Nicholl accepts he exchanged punches,” counsel said.
“The physical exchange only stopped when Nigel Burgess was lying motionless and unconscious on the ground and at that point Brian Nicholl left the scene and walked back into his house. He accepts at this point he changed his clothing.”
Another neighbour went out to check on Mr Burgess “and he didn’t appear to be breathing”.
The defendant came back out of his house and said to Nigel Burgess, “Budgie, get up” and rolled him onto his back.
Police and paramedics tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate Mr Burgess and he was pronounced dead at the scene at 11.19pm.
A post mortem by Dr James Lynas, the state pathologist for Northern Ireland, concluded that none of the injuries – bruising, abrasions and minor lacerations – were significant or life-threatening and they did not contribute to Mr Burgess’ death.
He also found there was no evidence Mr Burgess was rendered unconscious as a result of a blow to the head or any injury.
Dr Lynas also found the deceased had a narrowing of the arteries, that were clogged up, and concluded that Mr Burgess’s death was “precipitated by a cardiac arrest which occurred during a physical and stressful altercation in association with a severe ischemic and hypertensive heart disease”.
A further opinion was sought from Professor Jennifer Adgey, honorary professor of cardiology at QUB and a consultant cardiologist at RVH, who agreed with the conclusion of Dr Lynas.
She said death was instantaneous and that the trigger was the altercation, which occurred in the presence of his heart condition.
Prosecuting counsel said the aggravating factors were the defendant’s previous record, and his actions after the event, including abandoning the deceased, changing clothes and the denial of involvement in any altercation.
He said the mitigating factors were the plea of guilty entered on the morning of the trial, that none of the physical injuries had caused the death, and that death arose in the course of the altercation because the deceased was suffering from a latent heart condition.
At the time of the incident, he said the defendant had been drinking in his home and was intoxicated. Mr Burgess had not consumed any alcohol.
A defence barrister said this was not a ‘one-punch’ case and it was “utterly unforeseeable that this man would die of a heart attack on the day in question”.
He said the defendant, who cares for his elderly mother, and the deceased were neighbours who got on well and had known each other for a very long time.
He said that, on the night in question, his client was having a few drinks in his own house and was asked by another neighbour to go out.
He claimed his motive at the start was good, namely “to avoid trouble” and to act as a “peacekeeper”, but that he did admit throwing the first punch.
“The deceased was subject, unbeknownst to him or his family or anybody else on this estate, to this latent heart condition… He was a ticking time bomb, he could have died at any moment,” he said.
He said his client did not realise Mr Burgess was as damaged as he was when he left the scene – and the decision to leave may have been influenced by his inebriated state.
The prosecution counsel rejected the defence assertion that the defendant had acted as a “peacemaker” but said he had gone out out to “sort this out and he was heavily intoxicated at the time”.
Sentencing will take place next Wednesday, February 22 in Newry Crown Court at 10am, providing Nicholl’s condition is not serious.