Northern Ireland news

Christopher Meli murder trial to go ahead almost four years after killing

Christopher Meli was murdered in west Belfast in December 2015

Six people are to stand trial later this year on offences arising from the December 2015 murder of Christopher Meli in west Belfast.

Three of the six defendants have been charged with murdering the 20-year old father-of-one, while their co-accused face other charges linked to alleged incidents on the evening of December 12, 2015.

Mr Meli was beaten to death and his body was discovered on a pathway in the Glasvey Close area of Twinbrook. At the time police, believed up to 20 young people were involved in a number of violent incidents that culminated in his death.

All six accused appeared at Craigavon Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, where they heard a trial which could last up to 12 weeks will be taking place this September.

The trio accused of murdering Mr Meli are Caolan Laverty (19) from Belfast Road in Glenavy, Stephen McCann (21) from Dundrinne Road in Castlewellan and 21-year old Lee Smyth, who was living at an undisclosed address in Co Antrim but who is currently housed in Maghaberry.

After the murder charges was put to each of them, all three replied 'not guilty.'

McCann, Laverty and Smyth were also charged with, and denied, two separate charges of fighting and causing an affray on December 12, 2015.

Aaron Stilges is charged with causing an affray

Also charged with causing an affray were Gary Samuel Lewis (20) from Thompson House on the Antrim Road in Belfast, 21-year old Aaron Stilges from Laurelvale in Crumlin and Daniel McGrath (21) from Thornhill Crescent in Dunmurry. All three denied this charge when it was put to them in court.

Five of the accused - Smyth, Laverty, Lewis, McGrath and Stilges - were charged with, and denied, attempted to causing grievous bodily harm to Ryan Morris, while Laverty, Smyth, Stilges and McGrath face and deny an additional charge of attempted to causing grievous bodily harm to Steven Woods.

Smyth, Stilges and Lewis were also charged with assaulting Mr Woods and causing him actual bodily harm. When this charge was put to the three men, they each replied 'not guilty.'

When asked by Mr Justice Colton how long the trial was expected to last, Crown prosecutor Ciaran Murphy QC told the judge "it has the potential to be lengthy" and could last up to 12 weeks.

Noting the case involved "multiple defendants facing multiple charges ... and thousands of pages", Mr Justice Colton set the trial date for September 9, 2019.

After all six men entered their pleas, Stilges and Smyth were returned to custody while the remaining four men were released from the dock.

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