A PRIEST who hit a parked car outside a church hall while double the drink-drive limit has avoided punishment because it happened on private land.
A court heard that Canon Peter Maguire was “unsteady on his feet” after he bumped his blue Fiat Punto into a Vauxhall Astra outside the hall at St John the Baptist Church in Normanton.
But charges against the 73-year-old were dismissed at Wakefield Magistrates’ Court on Monday after prosecutors failed to prove he had been drink-driving in a public place.
Maguire had pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence and his solicitor successfully argued that at the time of the incident the presbytery on Newland Lane was deemed as private.
The charge could only stand if it had occurred on a public place.
The court heard that at around 9pm on Tuesday, August 30 last year, Maguire hit an Astra belonging to Scarlett Hindle, who was attending a puppy training club in the church hall.
Miss Hindle told the court: “Someone 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 confronted Canon Maguire, who was “unsteady on his feet and seemed a little bit vacant”.
She said he suggested they could sort out the superficial damage to her rear bumper between them, but she called the police.
A statement from PC Matthew Paul Grayson said the priest “appeared drunk” and admitted having “a couple of social drinks” and provided a positive breath test.
He was taken to Pontefract Police Station, where further tests revealed he was over the drink-drive limit, and he was charged with drink driving and two other charges relating to his driving documents.
Denis Lofthouse, defending, said his client did not dispute the facts of the case, but the charges could not stand as it happened on private land belonging to the church.
He said the only people allowed in were those who had been invited or were paying.
Charles MacRae, prosecuting, argued the car park was a public place because anybody who wanted to go to church could use it and that it was open to all.
But chairman of magistrates Hazel Chowcat said: “At that time the car park was not a public place.
“The only members of the public who were using the car park at the time were members of the puppy club, we regard the puppy club as a closed group because they have to pay a fee.”
She told Maguire: “We therefore find the case not proved and dismiss all charges against you.”
Speaking outside the court, Mr Lofthouse said: “He regrets what happened. He will apologise to his congregation as he did apologise to the young lady.”