Two Co Fermanagh brothers who claimed to be loyalist paramilitaries have been sentenced for a “brutal and vicious’’ hammer attack on a man over claims he killed a pet snake.
Jason Spence, 27, from Main Street, Maguiresbridge, was handed down a determinate sentence of six years and eight months at Belfast Crown Court after he pleaded guilty to wounding his vulnerable victim with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm.
Spence, who suffers from paranoid delusions and hallucinations, will serve three years and four months in prison with the remaining three years and four months on supervised licence upon his release from custody.
His younger brother Ivan Spence, 25, of Crichton Park, Tamlaght, received a determinate sentence of three years, with 18 months to be spent in custody followed by 18 months on licence.
The court heard the victim was at his Templemore Street flat in east Belfast in the early hours of April 26, 2013, when he answered a knock to his door from three men, one of whom he had recognised meeting at a previous house party.
A prosecution lawyer told Judge Geoffrey Miller QC that Jason Spence followed the victim into the house, claiming he was from the UVF and started to hit the man with the hammer.
The court heard Spence continued to hit the victim outside the flat.
The victim was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital with “significant injuries he received from multiple blows in the sustained attack”.
The prosecutor said the man needed 13 staples to head wounds and a further 16 sutures to facial injuries.
Later, the PSNI received a call from a man claiming to be from the ‘Loyalist Resurrection Force’ and said the victim of the attack “had been told to get out for selling drugs to under age people in the area”.
It was claimed the attack happened after the victim was accused of killing a pet snake belonging to Ryan Hilditch who lived in the block of flats.
The judge was told that a voice recognition expert who listened to the phonecall matched it to Jason Spence.
The court was told the Spence brothers and co-accused Ryan Hilditch all denied involvement in the assault.
Hilditch was later convicted of aiding and abetting the attack and received a four-year determinate sentence.
The Spence brothers fled Northern Ireland ahead of their trial in November 2014 and were on-the-run for 18 months until they were tracked down to Liverpool.