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Murderer will be 'very old man' before he is released

A 56-year-old man who orchestrated the "brutal and senseless" murder of Phillip Strickland has been told he will serve a minimum of 15 years in jail with no remission.

Sentencing Jimmy Seales for the "ghastly" killing yesterday, Mr Justice Weir told him: "you will be a very old man before you become eligible to be considered for release".

Mr Strickland (36) was first shot in the leg in a yard on the Ballyglighorn road on the outskirts of Comber, Co down, then bundled into the back of his own car and driven a short distance to the Ballydrain road where he was shot in the face at point-blank range.

Seales, a farmer from Ballykeel road, Hillsborough, claimed he was at home watching Emmerdale at the time, but following a lengthy trial the jury convicted him of murdering Mr Strickland and of possessing a shotgun with intent.

The victim was ambushed following a chance encounter with Seales' son Jason Weir at the yard on the evening of January 11 2012.

The trial heard that following an assault on Seales the previous September, graffiti about him appeared in Comber and comments were posted on Facebook which the family attributed to Mr Strickland. After meeting at the yard, Jason Weir made several calls and his brother Ian, father Jimmy Seales and friend Stephen McCaughey arrived at the scene.

Mr Justice Weir told Seales "you were in this whole matter the primary mover, director and controller".

"You brought the loaded shotgun, you fired the first shot and you directed the bundling of the injured Mr Strickland in to his own car," he said.

"If you didn't actually fire the second shot, I am satisfied that you directed it."

Stephen McCaughey (26), from Shackleton Walk in Newtownards, who was also found guilty of the murder and possession of the firearm, was told he will serve a minimum of 10 years in jail.

It was accepted that he was asked to come to the scene to back up his friend Jason, and there was no evidence to suggest he did anything physical.

"you didn't know the victim and became involved from a foolish, mistaken sense of loyalty to your friend and that has resulted in serious consequences for you," the judge said.

Mr Justice Weir told Belfast Crown Court of the impact the killing has had on Mr Strickland's family - especially his brother Andrew, who as a firefighter was asked to attend the scene and came across the lifeless body of his brother. On Thursday Ian Weir was told he will serve a minimum sentence of four years before being considered for release, while his brother Jason was handed a nine-and-a-half year minimum term. Last week lesley Weir - a sister of Jason and Ian and daughter of Jimmy Seales - also appeared in the dock for withholding information.

She and four co-accused who each admitted providing false alibis were handed 18-month prison sentences suspended for two years.

* On page 17 yesterday we presented a photograph said to be Jason Weir. In fact, it was not the defendant.

* MURDERERS: Jimmy Seales and Stephen McCaughey who were jailed yesterday for a minuimum of 15 and 10 years respectively for murdering Phillip Strickland n FAMILY: Phillip Strickland's mother Liz Dempster, second left, and family members leave Belfast Crown Court yesterday. Inset, Mr Strickland PICTURE: Photopress

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