Northern Ireland news

Indeterminate jail time given to man for James Hughes manslaughter

James Hughes was stabbed to death in his flat at Divis Tower in west Belfast in 2016

A PARANOID schizophrenic who stabbed his neighbour to death will spend at least eight years in jail for the killing.

James Brendan Patrick Devine was given an indeterminate custodial sentence with a minimum eight-year term for the manslaughter of 62-year-old James Hughes.

The 44-year-old had consumed a combination of Buckfast wine and medication when he stabbed his neighbour 33 times in his Divis Tower flat in November 2016.

He stole £6,000 cash from him and then went to visit relatives in Ballymoney where he confessed to the killing over dinner with his sister, who then contacted police.

The court heard that earlier that morning, Devine called his mother and said he had "stabbed a boy to death".

Police attended Mr Hughes's flat at Divis Tower on November 6 and discovered the front door forced open.

Two knives were lying on the floor, and a trail of blood led from the front door to the kitchen where Mr Hughes's body was found on a computer chair.

In court yesterday, the judge Mr Justice Colton said it was clear from relatives' statements that James Hughes was a "well-read, thoughtful human being committed to the Buddist philosophy of peace, which makes his violent death all the more poignant".

The court heard that following his arrest, Devine was initially compliant but was verbally abusive towards officers. He made a number of comments to police making admissions to the killing.

But later police were given a prepared statement in which Devine said he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and claimed he remembered nothing of the killing, or the alleged confessions to his sister and mother.

He also claimed that he walked into his friend James's flat on Sunday, and found him dead in the kitchen.

Devine, of Divis Tower, told police the deceased was his best friend, described him as a gentleman and said he had no reason to attack or murder him.

Despite these denials, Mr Hughes's blood was found on Devine's watch strap and his clothing.

Whilst Devine was initially charged with murder, a plea to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility was accepted by the crown.

Mr Justice Colton quoted from a doctor's report which stated Devine "has a long-standing diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia dating back from 2006".

The report also expressed an opinion that when he killed his neighbour, Devine was experiencing a psychotic relapse.

Devine has a history of violent offending including stabbing two fellow residents at a hostel.

The judge described Devine's upbringing as "traumatic" and that he had suffered from poor mental health since childhood.

Devine later told probation that while he had a limited memory of events, he can remember calling to his friend's flat where a heated argument took place.

He also expressed regret about taking Mr Hughes's life and expressed sympathy to his family.

After handing Devine the minimum eight-year term, Mr Justice Colton concluded by saying that if and when Devine is released, safeguards will be imposed to protect the public.

"Even if he is released on licence, he will be liable to be recalled to prison if at any time he does not comply with the terms of that licence", the judge said.

A statement sent to The Irish News last night from Mr Hughes's brother described James as a "peaceful and considerate individual", and criticised the PSNI and Housing Executive over his death.

It claimed police received a number of complaints "but failed to conduct any meaningful investigation" and alleged that residents "were placed at risk".

"Both agencies failed the residents of Divis Tower and in particular James Hughes," it said.

In a statement after sentencing, PSNI detective inspector Joanne Harris said: "James was known as a kind and caring person and for him to suffer such a brutal and cruel death will have been torturous for all those who knew and loved him."

She said she hoped the sentence would "provide some level of justice for James Hughes and his family".

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