A Newtownards man who was present at the murder of farm labourer Philip Strickland yesterday described how he witnessed the fatal shot being fired.
Stephen McCaughey, 26, from Shackleton Walk in the Co Down town, is one of two men standing trial at Belfast Crown Court for the murder of Mr Strickland, who was killed on January 11, 2012.
The 37-year-old was shot in the leg at a yard on the outskirts of Comber 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.
Giving evidence at the trial, McCaughey said he was asked to go to the yard by his friend Jason Weir.
The accused has consistently denied being involved in shooting or assaulting Mr Strickland. He told the jury that he was unaware Jason’s brother Ian and father Jimmy Seales would also be there.
McCaughey said he saw two men – Jason and Mr Strickland – fighting in the yard. McCaughey said a Mercedes then arrived and Jimmy Seales got out of the car with a shotgun in his hand. He said Mr Strickland began walking towards Seales, adding: “That’s when I heard the bang of the gun.”
When asked what happened next, McCaughey said Mr Strickland “hit the ground”.
He said that whilst on the ground, Mr Strickland was then assaulted by Jason Weir and his brother Ian, before he was dragged over to his own car and bundled into the boot of the Citroen Saxo. The Saxo was driven a short distance to the Ballydrain Road, and after it appeared that Mr Strickland managed to get out of the boot and was fighting with the driver, he was shot in the face at point blank range. McCaughey told the court that at this stage, Ian Weir was in possession of the shotgun. He told the court: “I seen Ian firing a shot in to the Saxo from the passenger side.”
In the immediate aftermath of the fatal shot being fired, McCaughey said Jason Weir tried to set the Saxo on fire, but all four men left the scene when they saw the lights from an other vehicle coming down the road.
McCaughey and 56-year-old Jimmy Seales, from Ballykeel Road in Hillsborough, both deny murder and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, while Seales’ sons Jason and Ian Weir have already pleaded guilty to murder.