Christopher Meli murder: Accused Lee Smyth avoids custody over bail breaches

Christopher Meli suffered fatal head injuries in violent confrontations in December 2015
Christopher Meli suffered fatal head injuries in violent confrontations in December 2015

A man charged with the murder of a young father beaten to death in west Belfast has avoided being returned to custody for repeatedly breaching bail conditions.

Lee Smyth acted with “either bravado or foolishness” in failing to sign with police on time and not responding when officers called to check on him, a High Court judge said.

But Mr Justice Maguire decided against revoking bail for the 21-year-old accused over the killing of Christopher Meli in December 2015.

Warning of the consequences of any further breaches, he told Smyth: “You will find the court’s patience will simply run out and I will have no choice but to simply send you back to prison.”

Smyth, originally from the Dunmurry area of the city, is one of three people charged with murdering 20-year-old Mr Meli.

He was released on bail last month to an address outside Belfast which cannot be reported.

Last week it emerged that Smyth is under threat, with panic buttons installed at the property where he is currently living as part of increased security measures.

The disclosure came at a review hearing where prosecutors claimed he has been “flaunting” bail conditions by signing late and failing to come to the door during police checks.

Smyth subsequently explained that he was on sleeping tablets and had slept through attempts to rouse him.

He was ordered to attend court to provide a full explanation.

Mr Meli’s parents and other relatives also attended court, sitting just a few feet away from one of those accused of killing their son.

Barrister Tom McCreanor, representing Smyth, explained: “He tells me he did sign late because he was feeling unwell.”

Counsel accepted his client had been unacceptably “tardy” but urged the judge to give him one final chance.

Mr Justice Maguire responded that Smyth must have been in “some major stupor” not to have heard police banging on his door.

“He has let me down,” the judge said.

“These are not onerous conditions about reporting to police, (but) he decides to rewrite the conditions.

“To me, it’s either bravado or foolishness – probably the latter.”

Allowing Smyth to remain in bail, however, Mr Justice Maguire confirmed another review of his adherence to the terms in six weeks time.

Smyth is one of a number of people currently facing charges related to Mr Meli’s death.

Detectives believe up to 20 people were involved in a number of violent confrontations that led to the victim suffering fatal head injuries at Doc’s Lane in the Twinbrook estate.

Previous courts heard he was set upon by a large group of both males and females, and subjected to “a sustained, savage attack”.

Smyth, who denies the murder charge against him, went to police later that day to give an account of his alleged involvement in the wider incident.

He claimed to have exchanged blows with Mr Meli in a “fair fight” where both were on the ground as others set upon them, a judge was told previously.

He spent nearly two years in custody before being granted bail.