Man acquitted over Portrush stair fall death offers sympathy to grieving family

Police and Crime Scene investigators at the scene on Main Street.
Police and Crime Scene investigators at the scene on Main Street.

A 36-year-old Co Antrim man cleared of killing a doorman out celebrating Christmas offered his sympathies to the dead man’s family yesterday as he was unanimously acquitted of the manslaughter of 48-year-old father-of-three, Colin McLeister.

Mr McLeister tumbled to his death down a flight of stairs as he was helping another doorman escort a drunken Muredach Martin Doherty from the Playhouse Entertainment Complex in the seaside town of Portrush in the early hours of December 17, 2011.

Colin McLeister

Colin McLeister

As Mr McLeister’s three young children wept in the public gallery, defence QC Kieran Mallon told the court: “Regardless of what the verdict might have been, my client had provided me with specific instructions to express his deepest sympathy to the McLeister family for what was a very unfortunate accident.”

It had taken the Antrim jury of six men and four women just over two-and-a-half hours to acquit Doherty, from Hawthorn Crescent, Dunloy, of the unlawful killing.

By their verdict, the jury accepted Doherty’s claims it was a tragic accident which occurred as he “misfooted” and stumbled into Mr McLeister.

In turn, they appear to have rejected the prosecution case that a drunken Doherty deliberately pushed the doorman to his death.

Doherty’s week-long trial heard that Mr McLeister was with a number of other doormen attending their company’s Christmas party, run by their boss, who was also leaseholder of the Playhouse complex.

Judge Desmond Marrinan heard that Doherty was initially “shown the door” by the company boss, who left him at the top of the stairs as he appeared to have accepted “his night was over”.

Left to his own devices, Doherty turned and was walking back into the nightclub when he was stopped by doorman Billy Oliver, who was soon joined by Mr McLeister.

Together they began to “march” him back down the stairs. Again, Doherty appeared to be compliant, and “everything was going to go off peacefully”.

However, at some point Mr McLeister ended up in front of Doherty, and the tragic accident occurred.

Mr Oliver said that in “a bolt out of the blue”, Doherty gave his friend a 40 per cent push, with both hands, before both tumbled down the stairs.

However, under cross-examination, he conceded that Doherty may have stumbled and pushed into Mr McLeister.

Judge Marrinan, in his closing remarks to the jury, asked of the jury did Mr Oliver’s evidence, with its concessions, “not send a little cloud” across their mind when coming to decide the case.

When he was initially interviewed by police, Doherty claimed amnesia, saying: “I can’t remember that much about it really.

“But definitely I never pushed anybody or anything like that,” he told police. Doherty also said: “The one thing I don’t have is a good memory” – but that he only “wished he had” so he could prove his innocence.

He also told officers that “there is no reason why I could think of to make me want to push anybody”.

For seven of his interviews, Doherty denied pushing Mr McLeister, telling police: “It wasn’t me ... I never pushed this guy.”

However, when told of doorman Billy Oliver’s evidence, he said: “They were marching me down the stairs and whenever I was going down the stairs I misfooted and I just put my hands out to save myself and I just went tumbling down the stairs and the big lad went with me ... pure accident.”