A 23-YEAR-OLD FERMANAGH man went on trial today (Tuesday) accused of causing the death of young mum, Natasha Carruthers, by dangerous driving following a high-speed chase on October 7, 2017.

The 23-year-old mum of a baby girl, from Letterbreen, was crushed to death by her own car after she was thrown from the Vauxhall Corsa when it smashed into a tree just moments after being captured on CCTV driving at up to 100mph through the village of Derrylin.

Dungannon Crown Court heard today (Tuesday) that the driver, alleged drug dealer Nathan Phair, nicknamed 'Panda' was trying to evade two men he was said to have “performed a cheat or swindle” on the previous evening.

Phair, from Castlebalfour Park, Lisnaskea, who denies causing Ms Carruthers death, and grievous bodily injury to a second female passenger, also denies possessing Cocaine with intent to supply. However, he has admitted driving without a licence or insurance.

Prosecution QC David McDowell said initially the crash was treated as a tragic accident in which Ms Carruthers died, and a second girl also injured, as was Phair himself, with fractures to his skull, ribs, pelvis and collarbone.

However, police soon upgraded their investigation after forensic examination revealed the Vauxhall Corsa may have been struck from behind by another car.

That vehicle, a black BMW was being driven by 28-year-old Padraig Toher, from Bawnboy, Ballyconnell, Co Cavan. He has already pleaded guilty to Ms Carruthers' manslaughter, and with another man, Andrew Watters, has admitted involvement in the alleged drug dealing with Phair.

Mr McDowell told the jury:

“The car chase came about in what appears to be a cheat or swindle performed by Phair in the course of his drug-dealing with Toher … He cheated him out of his money.”

Counsel claimed that Watters, nicknamed 'Rat' had organised for Toher to purchase drugs from Phair in the past, usually paying around £100. However, on the final occasion he requested a larger quantity paying 500 Euro in advance, but Phair did not deliver and Toher wanted his money back.

The following evening Toher and Watters came across Phair in the village of Letterbreen. He was sitting parked in Ms Carruther's Corsa. She was in the passenger seat, not wearing her seatbelt. In the back was another girl.

Mr McDowell said that Toher, armed with a metal bar, approached the Corsa, demanding his money, before striking the windscreen of the car. Phair dorve off, pursued by Toher.

For 12-miles, along county roads from Letterbreen as Phair attempted to reach Lisnaskea, the cars raced each other, and experts, who viewed CCTV footage estimated they were averaging 75mph. However, this increased to 100pm just moments before the fatal collision on the Newbridge Road.

This last piece of footage taken 500 metres from the crash scene, showed Toher attempting to overtake and Phair moving to the middle of the road. The jury heard he was straddling the central lines in the final seconds before the Corsa smashed into the tree.

Mr McDowell also said that while recovering in hospital Phair sent a message to a friend referring to Toher’s and Watters which read, “The Rat and that Padraig boy rammed me because I stroked him 500 Euro.”

When later interviewed by police Phair claimed he "panicked" and "took-off" after Toher had attacked the Corsa car, and was heading for nearest PSNI station, which he thought was in Lisnaskea, some 20 miles away, although there was one in Enniskillen, just six miles away.

He also claimed Toher bumped his car “more than 20 times.” He accepted moving into the centre of the road as “he didn’t want Toher to get ahead.” And that he recalled being struck to the rear, losing control and smashing into the tree.

However, when questioned about any alleged drug dealing, Phair gave a largely “no comment” answers, including when shown the text on “cheating Toher out of money”.

Mr McDowell told the jury they may hear a claim Phair acted under duress and outlined three points for consideration. These are: if there was threat of death or serious injury; was action taken because someone would be killed or injured, and would any reasonable person have responded similarly faced with the same circumstances.

The trial, expected to last two to three weeks, continues tomorrow. (Wednesday)