The remaining two men accused of involvement in the killing of Coleraine community worker Kevin Brendan McDaid were acquitted this morning (Thursday) of all charges.
The prosecution told trial judge Mr Justice Weatherup that “having reviewed all the evidence in the case against the two defendents and having taken instructions from the Public Prosecution Service, I offer no evidence.”
Following this declaration, lawyers Peter Irvine QC and Lawrence McCrudden QC “invited” the Judge to acquit Coleraine men David James John Cochrane (52) from Windyhall Park and 39-year old Philip Edwin Kane from The Crescent of the manslaughter of the 49-year old father of four, who died five years ago this month.
The Belfast Crown Court judge also formally entered verdicts of Not Guilty on four other charges including the attempted murder of Mr McDaid’s friend Damien Fleming, assaulting Mr McDaid, causing grievous bodily harm to Mr Fleming, and also of causing an affray on May 29, 2009.
Mr Justice Weatherup was later told by the prosecution that the families involved had been made aware of the situation through a series of meetings during which all were “being kept informed.”
He had asked the prosecution if the families were being “kept aware of what is going on, from day to day”, as they and others “may not understand what has happened and why we are where we are today.”
The cases of the remaining accused, none of whom are now directly charged with the unlawful killing or attempted murder, will be reviewed again early next month, when a possible date for sentence will be fixed.
Mr Justice Weatherup said there were a number of pre-sentence reports to be prepared, and he was “not sure when that will be achieved”, adding he did not want to put “any additional pressure on the Probation Service” in coming up with the reports.
The prosecution also told the court that they had asked the victims - in particular Mr McDaid’s widow Evelyn and Mr Fleming - if they wished to make statements for victim impact reports.
Today’s acquittals sees the end of the case which began eleven days ago, when some 14 men, warders, police and press, divided families and members of the public squeezed into Court Twelve of Belfast’s Laganside Courthouse. The 14 were expected to go on trial accused of a variety of charges including a dozen who faced offences arising from the death of the Catholic community worker who collapsed and died after a gang of local loyalists launched a violent attack near his home in the Heights area of Coleraine following a Rangers and Celtic match.
Over the following days, amidst a lot of tooing and froing, the accused either in one, twos, groups of three or more began entering guilty pleas to a number of offences arising out of the unlawful killing. However, in the wake of those pleas, the Prosecution, were appropriate, asked for the manslaughter and attempted murder charges ‘not to be proceeded with without leave of this court or the Court of Appeal.’
The first to plead guilty last Tuesday (6th) were a group of four men - Aaron Thomas Beech (28), Ivan Beattie McDowell (47), 23-year old David Craig Cochrane and Rodney Gardner (46).
Beech, from John Street in Ballymena, pleaded guilty to three counts - causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Mr Fleming, assaulting Mr McDaid causing him actual bodily harm and causing an affray on May 24, 2009. Also admitting to a charge of causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Mr Fleming was Ivan McDowell, from Taggart Mews in Main Street, Ballymoney.
David Craig Cochrane from Windyhall Park in Coleraine and Rodney Gardner from Knocklynn Grange in Coleraine were re-arraigned on a charge of causing an affray on May 29, 2009, and they both pleaded guilty.
Also admitting a single charge of affray were James McAfee (32) from Lisnablagh Road in Coleraine and 38-year old Christopher McDowell from Castle Walk Mews in Castlerock.
Next to plead was Frank Simpson Daly (53) from Oakland Walk in Coleraine, who admitted causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Mr Fleming, assaulting both Kevin McDaid and his wife Evelyn causing them both actual bodily harm, and also causing an affray.
Earlier this week, two more of the 12 men initially accused of manslaughter and murder pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
John Thompson (34) from Knocknougher Road in Macosquin and 49-year old Paul Andrew Newman from Nursery Avenue in Ballymoney pleaded guilty as a secondary party to causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Mr Fleming on May 24, 2009. They also admitted assaulting Mr McDaid causing him actual bodily harm, as well as causing an affray, while Thompson admitted damaging the window of a police vehicle.
Next to plead was John McGrath (55) from Knock Road in Ballymoney, who pleaded guilty as a secondary party to causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Mr Fleming. McGrath also admitted assaulting Mr McDaid as a secondary party, and also causing an affray.
The final two of the 12 men facing charges arising from the fatal incident at the Heights - David Cochrane and Philip Kane - were acquitted of all charges earlier today.
A further two men pleaded guilty last week to charges linked to the incident which occurred on June 29, 2010. Johnathon Sterling (25) from Windyhall Park in Coleraine admitted making threats to kill and threats to harm, while 24-year old John Freeman, from Sunderland Road in Belfast admitted to charges of initimidating witnesses and common assault.
All of the 12 remaining defendents who are due to be sentenced were released on continuing bail.