Priest, 73, in car crash cleared of drink driving

Parish Priest Peter Maguire was found to be double the drink limit when stopped in August 2011. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
Parish Priest Peter Maguire was found to be double the drink limit when stopped in August 2011. Picture: Ross Parry Agency
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A PRIEST escaped a drink-driving conviction because the church car park he was caught driving in was deemed to be private.

Canon Peter Maguire was double the drink-drive limit and unsteady on his feet when he hit the car of a young woman attending a puppy training club at the church hall, a court heard.

But the 73-year-old, who has been priest at St John the Baptist Church in Normanton, for seven years, denied the charge maintaining he was not using a public road when the offence was committed.

A court heard the Catholic priest had been “drinking socially” when he was attempting to move his car from the car park to his garage when he hit Scarlett Hindle’s blue Vauxhall Astra with his Fiat Punto at 9pm on Tuesday, August 30 last year.

The car park he was in services the church, the church hall, the church social club and the Presbytery.

And although it is used by those attending the church for weddings and funerals and guests at the Parish club it was argued that, at the time, it was only being used by those attending the puppy club and, therefore, was not open to the public.

Miss Hindle told Wakefield Magistrates Court: “Somebody came into the hall at the end of the club and asked who had a blue Astra, I said it was me, and I was told: ‘I think the Priest has just hit your car’.”

She rushed out to see her car was slightly damaged. She saw the priest on his driveway and shouted to him: “Excuse me, have you just hit my car?”.

He did not reply until she had shouted to him for a third time, in which he replied: “Yes”.

“He was unsteady on his feet and a appeared a little bit vacant.

“I asked him: ‘Have you been drinking?’ but he didn’t reply,” she said.

“I thought he was drunk because of his demeanour, the vagueness and the unsteadiness on his feet.

“He suggested we could sort anything between ourselves and handed me his card, but at that point I was already speaking to the police.”

The policeman who arrived at the scene, PC Matthew Grayson, said: “He was unsteady on his feet and appeared drunk.”

When he failed the breath test Canon Maguire was taken to the local police station.

There, at 10.30pm, a further test showed a reading of 71 micrograms of alcohol in 100ml of breath – the limit is 35 micrograms.

Charles McRae, prosecuting, argued the car park was a public place because it could be used by anybody who wished to go into the church and that the church was a spiritual place open to all.

But Denis Lofthouse, representing Canon Maguire, said the church operated as a business and the only people allowed in were those who had been invited or were paying, as in the case of Miss Hindle.

The Bench agreed after he told them: “The car park could be deemed as open to the public some of the time and not at others.

“At the time of the accident, it was a private car park.”

Delivering her not guilty verdict Dr Hazel Chowcat said: “The court finds the car park is not a public place, the people using the car park were members of the puppy club, we regard the puppy club as a closed group because they have to pay a fee to attend.”