A WEST Belfast chef who bit off part of a man’s ear during a Twelfth of July attack narrowly avoided being sent to prison on Tuesday.
Danny McAree (43), of Hamill Street in the Divis area of the city, was handed a two year sentence suspended for three years for what was described in court as a “barbarous and repugnant’’ attack.
The father-of-three was due to go on trial in May this year at Belfast Crown Court to deny a charge of unlawfully and maliciously wounding his victim with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm.
However, when the prosecution added a less serious charge of wounding, McAree was re-arraigned and pleaded guilty to the offence.
Belfast Crown Court heard on Tuesday that the victim along with his brothers and some friends had come to Northern Ireland from Stoke in England for the Twelfth of July celebrations in 2015.
Prosecution lawyer David Russell said the group had spent Saturday, July 11 drinking in bars on the Shankill Road before heading back into the city centre where they were staying in the Ibis Hotel.
He told Judge Geoffrey Miller QC that the victim and his friends decided to go into Cosgrove’s Bar in King Street.
The court heard that there was an exchange between the victim’s group and patrons in the bar, with someone shouting: “Go on home you English b******s. You are not welcome here.’’
“A member of staff suggeted to the victim and his friends that it might better if they left the bar for their own safety,’’ said Mr Russelll.
It was at this point, the court heard, a mob of 20 people charged the English tourists and the two groups spilled out into the street.
During the melee outside, the victim had part of his left ear bitten off. The court heard the severed portion of ear was later retrieved from the street and the victim was taken to hospital.
Mr Russell said the victim later picked out his attacker from a police identification process and McAree’s DNA was a match to a swab taken from the injured ear.
The prosecution lawyer said a fresh set of photographs were taken on the day the trial was due to start, showing the extent of the injury, with some cartilage missing from ear: “Thankfully,’’ said Mr Russell, “there was no damage to the ear drum’’.
Judge Miller was told that McAree, who worked at the Morning Star Hostel near Divis Street, was arrested in October 2016 and made a no comment interview.
Mr Russell said that the aggravating factors were that the attack took place in a public place, the attack was carried out by a group, there was no apparent motive for the attack and the defendant “used his teeth as a weapon’’.
The court heard that in his victim impact statement, the complainant said the attack had a profound effect on him. He was on painkillers for five months and “continued feeling depressed for a further four months’’.
McAree had claimed to the Probation Service that he had “acted in self defence and in the defence of others’’ during the incident.
But Mr Russell told the court: “This was a wholly one-sided attack by the him on the victim,’’
Defence counsel John McCrudden QC said after his guilty plea to the wounding charge, McAree was “sacked’’ from his chef’s job at the Morning Star Hostel.
He praised the victim’s impact statement, adding: “I have never read such a measured and restrained impact report. The victim did not push the boat out.’’
The defence counsel told Judge Miller that the attack was a “serious crime, a barbarous and repugnnat act’’ and that McAree was “ashamed that he had bitten another human being’’.
Asked by the judge how McAree, who had a clear criminal record, had “got himself involved in this appalling act’’, Mr McCrudden said there had been a previous incident at the bar when it was attacked by members of ‘Combat 18’.
During the attack in March 2008 by a group of so-called ‘Neo-Nazis’, a 32-year-old man was beaten to the ground and had his throat slashed after the screening of a Celtic-Rangers Old Firm derby game.
The defence QC said McAree was “not a ring leader, he was not at the front, it was not an organised attack, it developed out of spontaneity....he was a back marker...he got sucked into this melee’’.
He added: “It was a moment of madness on his part. It is very hard to make sense of this but this will not happen again.’’
Mr McCrudden recited from a number of witness testimonies to McAree’s previous good character, his cross community work and his work with young people in boxing, including letters from a priest, a Shankill Road boxing club and from local Sinn Fein MLA Fra McCann.
During the proceedings, a former support worker at the Morning Star hostel took to the witness stand and told the judge how McAree had prepared special meals for an elderly resident who had suffered a stroke in an effort to get him to eat.
He also spoke of McAree’s engagement with a young resident in his 20s who he helped turn his path away from drugs towards boxing which enabled him to move from the “wet side’’ of the hostel for people with addiciton issues to the “dry side’’.
Passing sentence, Judge Miller said that on the day of the incident McAree was “clearly under the influence of alcohol’’ having consumed seven pints of beer.
The judge said that in the pre-sentence report, McAree “minimised’’ his involvement in the attack and said he had “no memory of how the victim could have been injured’’.
Judge Miller said that it was “unfathomable’’ that McAree, who had been boxing since the age of eight, had allowed himself to get involved in the mob attack, adding those who involved in ear biting incidents will receive “condine punishment’’ from the courts and expect immediate custody only in exceptional circumstances.
“It is truly exceptional that a court would consider suspending a sentence in such case and I will suspend sentence of two years for a period of three years.
“You should not be under any misapprehension that if you commit any further offences between now and July 3, 2021, in particular any offence involving violence, you will be referred back to me and I will impose that prison sentence.
“You are a man whose life has been blighted by this appalling act. I trust that you will be able to renew your career with the Morning Star hostel and pay back to society through the hostel and the Immaculata Boxing Club using your practical skills in assisting the most vulnerable in society.’’
Judge Miller also ordered McAree to pay his victim £2,000 in compensation, adding that he had 12 months to pay.