Nine men were yesterday jailed on various charges arising from the death of Catholic community worker Kevin McDaid, who died after being assaulted in what a judge described as “an ugly sectarian attack ... fuelled by alcohol”.
While the nine men were handed sentences which ranged from eight and a half years to six months, three other men who admitted charges linked to the incident walked free from court.
The incident which claimed the life of Mr McDaid and almost resulted in the death of his friend Damien Fleming occurred in the Heights area of Coleraine on May 24, 2010.
Trouble flared after Glasgow Rangers football club secured the Scottish league title on the last day of the season, when a group of up to 40 loyalists arrived in the Heights area to remove tricolour and Celtic flags that had been erected in the Somerset Drive area.
Mr Justice Weatherup told Belfast Crown Court a “confrontation took place between those who had gone to that area and a number of those who live in that area”. During the confrontation, both Mr McDaid and Mr Fleming were brought to the ground where they were kicked and punched and beaten with weapons.
Mr McDaid, a 49-year old father-of-four, had an underlying heart defect, and while the judge acknowledged he could have had a cardiac arrest at any time, he said the events of May 24 “undoubtedly brought on a heart attack”.
He added that Mr McDaid’s death “was a result of this incident”. Mr McDaid’s wife Evelyn was also injured in the attack.
The judge branded the fatal encounter as “undoubtedly an ugly sectarian attack” and said it was “fuelled by alcohol, which is so often the case when the courts are dealing with these kind of incidents”.
The court heard Mr Fleming sustained “very severe injuries” including a trauma to the brain, and also suffered a heart attack. He remained in a coma for four weeks in hospital and now requires permanent care. His sister also revealed that ‘Damien lost a part of himself in this attack’.
The judge said he had read victim impact reports that were supplied to the court by both Evelyn McDaid and a sister of Damien Fleming. He said: “They are two moving accounts of the impact these atrocities have had on the families of the victims.”
Before passing sentence, Mr Justice Weatherup branded the events as “tragic” and said they were a “consequence of tensions” that “existed at the time in Coleraine and which undoubtedly still exist”.
There was a heavy police presence in the packed public gallery, and measures were put in place to separate the family and friends of Mr McDaid and those who had come to support the 12 defendants. A verbal altercation broke out before Mr Justice Weatherup had finished passing sentence, prompting him to call for quiet.
As nine of the men were jailed and the remaining three walked free from the dock, their friends and family began cheering and clapping from the public gallery. This happened as those who had come to support the McDaid family made their way from the court.
The men who were jailed for offences arising from Mr McDaid’s death, and also the assaults on Evelyn McDaid and Damien Fleming, were initially charged with attempted murder and manslaughter.
However, as the trial was due to start earlier this year, each of the accused pleaded guilty to a series of lesser charges and were prosecuted on the basis of joint enterprise.
During yesterday’s sentencing, the court heard that none of the men revealed the roles they played individually and that each man entered guilty verdicts on the grounds they played a “secondary role”.
Mr Justice Weatherup spoke of the “limited admissions” and “limited evidence of actual engagement”, but said that in some cases there was DNA evidence on weapons, or blood from the victims on clothing. He did, however, speak of the “high culpability” of the defendants, adding “the offence was aggravated by sectarianism”.