Young father Christopher Meli 'robbed as he lay dying'
A MAN who was beaten to death on a field in west Belfast at the weekend was attacked by "a group of up to 30 people" who were "off their heads on Es", his parents have said.
A distraught Vanessa Burke and Christopher Meli told The Irish News they believe their son Christopher was also robbed as he lay dying in Glasvey Close in the early hours of Saturday morning.
They said it remains unclear whether knives were used in the attack, but have been told that their son was "kicked around."
Christopher’s friend, who was also attacked by members of the same gang, has been discharged from hospital after waking up "unconscious in an alleyway."
The parents of the 20-year-old, who was a father to a two-year-old boy and was completing a course to become a BT engineer, said they believe their son was set upon at random and did not know his attackers.
Mr Meli said: "We left the house at 7.30pm on Friday and I was driving him to Ryan's home in Glasvey. He went up every Friday night and there had never been any trouble."
"I left him at 7.50pm – I remember it well because I was joking with him that I wanted to get back for Eastenders."
At 4am on Saturday morning, Christopher’s parents were woken by banging on the door of their home in the Sliabh Dubh area of west Belfast.
Ms Burke said: "Ryan's sister and her friend were there. They just said: 'I don’t know if he has been in an accident or seriously injured'."
"I lost it. I got the kids up and drove to the Stewartstown Road. There was a tent in the middle of the field. I said 'I am here to find out if this is my son.'"
She added: "The woman from CID said he was wearing a tracksuit top, and we showed them a photo and police confirmed it was him."
Mr Meli said his son and his friend had left the property in Twinbrook and "gone through an alleyway" to buy alcohol and cigarettes shortly before midnight on Friday when they were confronted.
He said: "There was a confrontation with two to three males. One had walked over and hit Ryan."
"About five minutes later 30 of them appeared and attacked them. Ryan ran off and Chris went over to the field. Some of them chased Christopher and some of them went after Ryan."
Mr Meli added: "Ryan said they were off their head on Es. He was knocked unconscious in the alleyway and said he last remembers Christopher being kicked around."
According to an eyewitness account, the parents said they have been informed that there was a final insult to their son as he lay dying.
Christopher’s mum said: "We have been told that one of the gang turned around and said to the others: 'he’s dead, empty his pockets'."
Three teenagers, two aged 18 and one aged 16, were arrested on suspicion of murder and attempted murder and last night remained in police custody.
Speaking about their son in the present tense, his parents said the former pupil at De La Salle College in Andersonstown had begun a course to become an electrician but was unable to secure an apprenticeship due to the recession.
The fishing fan, who went fishing with his friends every Saturday, had recently passed his driving theory test and had purchased a car in anticipation of getting out on the road.
His father said: "He had never been in any trouble, had no convictions, hadn’t even been in a police station."
He added: "If you look at the tributes on social media you can see what people thought of him. They didn’t have a bad word to say about him. He was a quiet child."
His three brothers, ranging in age from two to 15, have also been left devastated.
Ms Burke said: "The youngest two children aren’t able to understand it. The older brother hasn’t spoken to anyone since it happened."
Mr Meli said he was unhappy that police officers had not visited the family home by last night.
He said: "The first contact with the police was a call at 12 noon. They haven’t been out to see us and that is disgusting. I have to ask why my son had been under a tent in a field and nobody has come out to see us."
Christopher’s parents say they believe most of the gang involved were teenagers from the Twinbrook and Poleglass areas.
The Twinbrook area has been plagued by anti-social behaviour in recent months.
In October around 200 youths set fire to a former pub and attack passers-by with bottles and fireworks.
It is believed social media was used to organise the gathering at the site of the derelict Brook Lodge bar in Summerhill Drive, with teenagers, some as young as 13, travelling from outside Twinbrook to the site.
Ms Burke said: "If I had known that up there was so bad I would have told his friend to come down here."
Christopher’s parents said they question what the parents of teenagers involved in anti-social behaviour are doing.
Mr Meli said: "The kids are running around the streets. It is a disgrace. If the parents didn’t know what their kids were up to, that’s not proper parenting."
"If I told Christopher to be in at 11 he came back at 11, there was never any backchat from him. There is nobody there to confront these kids and keep them in check."
Mr Meli added: "My Christopher was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
SDLP councillor Brian Heading described the murder as "an affront to the people of Twinbrook", while Sinn Féin MLA Jennifer McCann has said she was "shocked" at news of the violent death and appealed for anyone with information to come forward.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.