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9 jailed for 'ugly sectarian attack' which left man dead

Published 02/07/2014

Maeve Connolly

NINE loyalists have been sentenced to between six months and eight and a half years in connection with a sectarian attack that left Coleraine man Kevin McDaid dead and his friend in a coma.

The men will be eligible for 50 per cent remission which means they could serve half their sentence after committing what the judge described as "an ugly sectarian attack... obviously fuelled by alcohol".

Two others received suspended sentences for their involvement in the May 2009 violence while a third man was put on probation for 12 months for threatening to kill a witness to the attack.

After sentencing, friends and families in the public gallery got to their feet and applauded the defendants in the dock as the McDaid family filed out of the courtroom.

Belfast Crown Court heard yesterday that the attack on Mr McDaid and Damien Fleming continued as they lay injured on the ground.

"Police attempted to intervene and while intervening they observed attacks on the body [of Mr Fleming] on the ground both with boots and weapons," the judge said during sentencing.

"Mr McDaid was also attacked while on the ground. He sustained blows to the head and injuries while he was probably face down on the ground."

Mr Justice Weatherup said the 49-year-old father of four sons had "a weak heart" and "this event undoubtedly brought on a heart attack" which could have occurred at any time under different circumstances, "but his death was a result of this incident".

In a victim impact statement Mr Fleming's sister said he had been in a medically induced coma for four weeks and had "lost part of himself in this attack".

The court had already heard that Mr Fleming had suffered "massive facial injuries" including a cut that bled profusely, causing him to lose six of the 13 litres of blood in his body.

His heart also stopped in hospital. Mr McDaid's widow, Evelyn, was also injured.

Summing up, the judge said there had been a confrontation between Rangers fans who travelled to the Heights area to take down Celtic flags and tricolours after their team won the Scottish Premiership.

Witnesses had described hearing shouts of "We're the UDA" and threats to "kick some Fenian heads" from a group of around 40 men.

Ten of the men had originally been charged with Mr McDaid's manslaughter and the attempted murder of Mr Fleming but pleaded guilty to a range of lesser offences on the basis of having played a "secondary role" and were prosecuted on the basis of joint enterprise. Two of them were acquitted.

Three of the defendants are in loyalist bands in Coleraine.

The judge said there was "limited evidence of actual engagement" in the attacks and while DNA, including Mr Fleming's blood, was found on clothing and footwear belonging to defendants it proved they were present at the time of the attack, not that they participated.

The longest sentences were given to the six who admitted the most serious charge of causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Mr Fleming.

The court heard that the men are now involved in community work and in some cases, cross-community activity.

John Thompson (34), of Main Street in Castlerock, received the longest jail term of eight and a half years and was the only person to admit having punched Mr McDaid.

He was given an eight-year sentence for GBH and six months for criminal damage which are to run consecutively. He also received a four-year term for assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH) of Mr McDaid and three years for affray which are to run concurrently.

The 34-year-old served half of a 12-year-sentence handed down in 2002 for possession of articles for

use in terrorism and possessing firearms and ammunition with intent and was on licence at the time of the Heights attack.

Sentences for the remaining men are to run concurrently.

Frank Daly (53), of Cloneen Drive in Coleraine, was jailed for eight years for grievous bodily harm, four years for ABH against Kevin McDaid, four years for ABH against Evelyn McDaid and three years for affray. He and co-accused John McGrath were given a six-year prison term in 1997 for robbery involving an imitation firearm.

Aaron Beech (28), of Hamilton Park in Ballymoney, was sentenced to seven years for GBH, three years for ABH and three years for affray and has minor offences on his re-cord. The father-of-four will lose his job in the civil service as a result.

John McGrath, of Hawthorne Place in Coleraine, was sentenced to six years for GBH, three years for ABH and three years for affray. The 55-year-old father-of-three has 15 convictions including the 1997 robbery, ABH and possession of an offensive weapon.

Paul Newman (49), from Cambridge Park, Coleraine, received a six-year sentence for GBH and three years each for ABH and affray.

He also has 15 convictions including disorderly behaviour and assault, robbery and possession of a firearm and received a seven-year jail term in 1988.

Ivan McDowell (47), of Lisnablagh Road, Coleraine, was jailed for five years for GBH. The father-of-four, a self employed painter and decorator, received a suspended sentence for riotous and disorderly behaviour in 1998.

James McAfee (33), also of Lisnablagh Road, who admitted affray, was jailed for three years. The father of three sons has minor offences on his record.

Rodney Gardner (46), from Knock-lynn Grange, Coleraine, received the same sentence for affray.

The manager of a retail outlet in Coleraine he was jailed for two and a half years in 1996 for possessing items for the purposes of terrorism and possessing an imitation firearm with intent. He has 11 convictions in total.

John Freeman (24), of Tullans Park in Coleraine, who admitted intimidation and common assault of a witness, was jailed for six months for each offence, to run concurrently. The father-of-one was given community service last year for ABH and has a second conviction for the same offence.

Another two men who pleaded guilty to affray received one-year sentences suspended for two years; they were

Christopher McDowell (37), of Willow Court in Coleraine, and 23-year-old David Craig Cochrane from Windyhall Park in Coleraine.

Johnathon Stirling (25), of Elms Park in Coleraine, was released on probation for 12 months after pleading guilty to making threats to harm a witness. He must receive treatment for substance abuse and counselling for mental health issues.

* AFFRAY: Chris McDowell and David Craig Cochrane received one-year sentences, suspended for two years, after pleading guilty to affray

* RELEASED: Jonathan Stirling pleaded guilty to threatening to harm a witness

* JAILED: Clockwise from above John McGrath, John Thompson, Paul Newman, James McAfee were all jailed in connection with the sectarian attack that left Kevin McDaid dead and Damien Fleming in a coma

* VICTIMS: Kevin McDaid, Damien Fleming and Mr McDaid's widow Evelyn McDaid