hit and run Drunk driver who admitted leaving pedestrian for dead now claims 'it's all lies'
Excuse: motorist who hit man in country lane now says he wasn't driving
A drunk driver who admitted last week to hitting a pedestrian and leaving him to die on a country lane has astonishingly said: "It's all lies".
John McBurney, of Green Park Avenue, Markethill, had admitted in court being drunk behind the wheel and hitting David James Shields as he walked home from the same pub both men had been drinking in back in 2016.
The shocking hit-and-run incident happened five years ago and the family of Mr Shields (52) were furious last week that McBurney had only been sentenced to community service.
Last week, a defence solicitor acting on John McBurney's behalf told Newry Crown Court his client "apologised" for leaving Mr Shields on the road after hitting him and had admitted hitting a "human and had driven on in panic".
A police investigation had proven John McBurney's 4x4 had struck Mr Shields making "significant contact" and found the victim's DNA on the underside of the vehicle.
But now Mr McBurney - pictured here for the first time - has told the Sunday World he had "absolutely nothing to do with it".
He told us when we confronted him: "All I can tell you is everything the family (of Mr Shields) and the police are saying is all lies. And that's all I'm prepared to say."
The 43-year-old then hung up the phone but called back two minutes later.
We told him we were running a story about the case and wanted to offer him the opportunity to apologise to the family publicly and offer an explanation of what happened that night and why he failed to stop and call an ambulance.
However, he responded by saying: "I wasn't driving the car, I had absolutely nothing to do with it so why would I apologise for something I haven't done?"
When we asked why he had pleaded guilty in court to offences connected to the incident he hung up again.
The incredible retraction will undoubtedly add to the anguish felt by the family of Mr Shields which has already been heightened by the fact the families knew each other well and both live in the Markethill area.
Mr McBurney has never apoligised in person to the family nor an explanation of what happened to their cherished relative.
The family say McBurney has carried on with his life, seemingly without a care, and just days after escaping a jail sentence he was pictured playing the flute at a loyalist band parade through the village last Friday night.
Last night on hearing about Mr McBurney's shock 'retraction', Mr Shield's nephew David Brooks told the Sunday World: "I can't believe he is saying that now after admitting it in court."
McBurney - who has two previous drink drive convictions - had originally been charged with causing death by careless driving while unfit.
However, the Public Prosecution Service accepted his guilty pleas to driving while unfit through drink or drugs and that after an injurious accident, he failed to stop, remain and report it.
It was claimed in court the fact that Mr Shields may have been lying down on the country lane at the time he was struck meant he had "no criminal culpability in relation to his death".
The family of Mr Shields slammed the sentence handed out to McBurney after he was given 200 hours' community service and won't serve a single day behind bars.
Last week, Judge Gordon Kerr QC make it clear he was sentencing on the basis that McBurney had no "criminal culpability" but rather that he was not fit to be behind the wheel and despite knowing he had struck a human being with his Hyundai, "he failed to perform his duties" as a driver and left the scene.
Judge Kerr added, however, that it had been made clear to him that even if McBurney had stopped and alerted the authorities, the 52-year-old was so severely injured "it would not have made any difference to the outcome".
The men had both been drinking in the Victoria Bar in Markethill on the evening of the incident.
Mr Shields was walking home along a narrow back road and his body wasn't found until 7am the next morning lying at the side of the Shillinghill Road.
The police launched an extensive investigation when his body was found and a month later, on July 13, two officers were directed to speak to the owners of four separate 4x4 vehicles.
One of those people was John McBurney, who confirmed he had been drinking "four, five, six" pints in the same bar as Mr Shields on the night he was killed and that he drove along the Shillinghill Road.
His Hyundai was seized and when it was forensically examined, Mr Shields' DNA was recovered from the towing cleat "on the underside of the vehicle," said Mr MacCreanor, adding that a forensic engineer opined there had been "significant contact" with Mr Shields.
McBurney was arrested and twice interviewed but refused to answer police questions and the court heard that he has two previous convictions for drink driving in the late '90s.
Defence QC Gregory Berry submitted that neither "the manner nor the standard" of McBurney's driving caused the tragic death of Mr Shields but he did concede that "the reason he panicked" and fled the scene was that he had been drinking alcohol.
"That doesn't in anyway cover him in glory," said the senior lawyer, "quite the reverse and he apologises for that.
"My instructions are he was aware that he struck a human being and drove on in panic."
Sentencing McBurney, Judge Kerr revealed he had refused a defence "no bill" application to have the case dismissed, "ruling that the charge should proceed to trial" but after that, the PPS reviewed the evidence and instead chose to accept the defendant's pleas to lesser offences.
The rationale behind that decision, explained the judge, was because there was evidence that Mr Shields "was lying on the road at the time of the impact that caused his death".
He said while there was no criminal culpability in the death, "this was a bad case of its type" given the fact that McBurney "deliberately brought his car" to the pub knowing he was going to be drinking alcohol and driving home.
In addition to the community service, McBurney was banned from driving for three years.
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