Farmer guilty of Strickland murder

Police Forensic at the murder scene on the Ballydrain Road outside Comber Co Down.
Police Forensic at the murder scene on the Ballydrain Road outside Comber Co Down.

Co Down farmer Jimmy Seales has been found guilty of murdering a farm labourer.

Following a six-week trial held at Belfast Crown Court, on Monday the jury took around six hours to reach a unanimous guilty verdict against 56-year-old Seales, finding that he had murdered Comber man Philip Strickland.

Mr Strickland, a 37-year old farm labourer, died on the outskirts of Comber on January 11, 2012.

He was shot in the leg at a yard on the Ballyglighorn Road before being bundled into the boot of his own car and driven a short distance to the Ballydrain Road, where he was shot in the face at point blank range.

Seales, from Ballykeel Road in Hillsborough, has always denied being present.

He claimed that on the evening of the murder, he watched Emmerdale then went to bed.

However, several witnesses – including his son Ian Weir – placed him at the scene, armed with a shotgun. As well as being found guilty of murder, the jury also found Seales guilty of possession of a firearm with intent.

During the trial, the jury was told that four months prior to the murder, Seales was subjected to a vicious assault during which he was stabbed in the throat, had both his arms broken and was left for dead.

Following the attack, graffiti appeared in Comber and comments were made on Facebook which were attributed to Mr Strickland. It was the Crown’s case that the comments were not well received by Seales.

Ian and his brother Jason Weir have already pleaded guilty to murder and are awaiting sentence.

After the guilty verdict on their father was delivered by the jury yesterday, Mr Judge Weir addressed Seales in the dock and said: “Mr Seales, you have been found guilty of murder and there is only one sentence and that is the sentence of life imprisonment.”

The judge told Seales he will find out how long he will have to serve in prison before being considered for release by the Parole Commissioners at a hearing on a date to be fixed, and ordered the preparation of pre-sentence reports. He then remanded the farmer in custody.

Seales’ co-accused – 26-year old Stephen Charles McCaughey from Shackleton Walk in Newtownards – was also charged with murder and possession of a firearm.

The jury has still not reached a verdict on McCaughey and will return to Belfast Crown Court for further deliberations this morning.