A delivery driver convicted of deliberately flattening Orange Lilies planted outside an Orange Hall has been told by a judge it was a hate crime.
Seamus Mark McErlain (54), from Dunloy, had contested a charge of criminal damage but was found guilty at Coleraine Magistrates Court on Thursday.
The court heard he wiped out around 100 Orange Lilies between May 28 and June 3 last year which were planted beside Topp Orange Hall near Ballymoney.
Giving evidence, Katherine Murphy, of Topp Rural Regeneration and Cultural Society, said the flowers were planted as part of a Memorial Flower Bed but in May of last year they noticed damage had been caused to them.
The court was told how the lilies had cost £1 each and over the period of time the damage occurred, it added up to over £100.
She said the lilies had to be replaced several times before they finally installed the CCTV cameras.
A prosecutor provided photographs to the court that showed the same car parked on top of the flower bed on two occasions but the number plate wasn’t clear.
However, on a third occasion when the same car was captured on camera, the registration was visible, and the police were called in.
McErlain, a self-employed courier, had pleaded not guilty and told the court he hadn’t realised the piece of land was a flower bed and he hadn’t known the building beside the ground was an Orange Hall.
He told District Judge Liam McNally he didn’t know the area very well at the time the incident occurred as he had only started making deliveries there.
However, he said he chose to park his car in that space so as not to disturb an elderly couple he was delivering to as he had on a previous occasion.
He explained how on the earlier delivery, the couple’s dogs had been disturbed which awakened the elderly lady – culminating in delaying his delivery times and causing the companies he delivers for to penalise him.
McErlain claimed there was nothing to identify the piece of ground as a flower bed.
He said there were no kerbs and he didn’t see flowers in bloom, only what he thought were weeds. He said he had no reason to believe there were lilies planted there.
Judge McNally pointed out to the defendant that in the photographs he could see a car park area beside the Orange Hall, as well as a lay-by some feet away from the flower bed, and questioned why he hadn’t made an effort to park there.
Sentencing the defendant, Judge McNally confirmed the incident was being treated as a hate crime.
He added: “The number of times you drove over the flower bed it was not a case of recklessness, it was a deliberate act to destroy these flowers. The act was motivated by antipathy towards members of the Orange Order.”
Finding McErlain guilty of criminal damage, the judge said he would give him “no credit at all” for engaging in the type of behaviour, before handing down a fine of £500.
He also ordered the defendant to pay £100 compensation for the damaged flowers.