Northern Ireland news

Christopher Meli's parents 'devastated' over manslaughter pleas

Christopher Meli's parents Vanessa Burke and Christy Meli at their west Belfast home. Picture by Mark Marlow

THE parents of Christopher Meli have said they are "heartbroken and devastated" that no one will be prosecuted for murder over their son's killing.

Christopher (20), a father-of-one, was beaten to death at Doc's Lane in the Twinbrook estate in west Belfast in December 2015.

Three men had been due to stand trial for murder at Belfast Crown Court this week however it will not go ahead after they pleaded guilty to lesser charges when they appeared in court yesterday.

Caolan Laverty (20), of Belfast Road, Glenavy, and Lee Smyth (22), whose address was given as Maghaberry Prison, had been charged with murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

A murder charge against a third man - Stephen McCann (22), of Dundrinne Road, Castlewellan, Co Down, - was left on the books after he pleaded guilty to affray.

Laverty also pleaded guilty to a charge of assaulting another man and actual bodily harm.

Smyth admitted charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, fighting and affray.

A 21-year-old woman who pleaded guilty to causing an affray on the night of Mr Meli's death is also due to be sentenced following the men's guilty pleas.

The three are due to be sentenced next month.

Christopher's parents Vanessa Burke (44) and Christy Meli (51), who did not attend the hearing yesterday, said they were devastated by the decision.

Ms Burke, who has five other children, said she "hadn't stopped crying" since she was informed by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) on Thursday that the accused would face lesser charges.

"To go from a murder charge to an affray charge - that's a real kick in the teeth for us," she said from her home in west Belfast.

She added: "I'm frustrated and really angry."

Ms Burke said the family were told there was insufficient evidence and not enough witnesses to launch a murder prosecution.

"I am frustrated at the PPS and police, everyone involved really," she said.

"I feel they led us down the garden path."

Ms Burke said the last four years since Christopher's death had been a terrible ordeal.

"I feel like I can't really grieve for Christopher," she said. "We're still waiting for everything to be over."

Ms Burke said the family will consider launching an appeal if they are unhappy with the sentences due to be handed down next month - just a week after the fourth anniversary of Christopher's death.

"I have to go to the sentencing hearing but I am absolutely dreading it," she said.

Mr Meli said he felt the family had been let down by the legal system.

"The whole set-up for a victim's family is disgusting," he said.

"We felt that we were on trial ourselves. I think the legal system is a joke."

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