A young father was hunted and savagely beaten to death in retaliation for an earlier clash outside a west Belfast takeaway, the High Court has heard.
Prosecutors claimed 20-year-old Christopher Meli was attacked by a large group of both males and females who joined up to “exact revenge” for the previous incident.
Details of the fatal assault in the Twinbrook area of the city emerged as bail was granted to one of three teenagers charged with his murder.
A judge ruled that Stephen McCann can be released from custody after being told no witnesses implicate him as being directly involved in the killing early on December 12.
However, referring to the events surrounding Mr Meli’s violent death as a tragedy, Mr Justice Horner said: “It’s a clear example of what can happen when a group of young people behave in a way which can only be described as vicious and savage.”
McCann, 18, of Bearnagh Glen in the city, sat head bowed as he appeared via prison video link for his bail application.
Relatives and friends of the victim packed the courtroom, many wearing T-shirts featuring a picture of the murdered father-of-one above the message “Rest in peace”.
Mr Meli’s mother, Venessa Burke, walked out midway through the hearing after directing an emotional outburst at the accused.
She shouted out: “It’s funny how he can’t look at me. He’s sitting with his head down. Look up.”
Detectives believe up to 20 people were involved in a number of violent confrontations that led to the fatal attack on grassland known as Doc’s Lane.
A post-mortem has confirmed Mr Meli died of head injuries.
Prosecution counsel Kate McKay claimed the case against McCann is based on a joint enterprise.
One line of inquiry is that an incident outside a kebab shop on the Stewartstown Road earlier the same night acted as a catalyst for the killing.
The court heard Mr Meli was with some friends – identified as Group A – involved in a fight with other teenagers, one of whom suffered a “busted nose”.
Mrs McKay claimed McCann then joined up with others to form a Group B intent on retaliation.
“They set out to find Group A to exact revenge,” she said.
When they encountered Mr Meli again he was repeatedly punched and kicked about the head and body as he lay on the ground, according to the prosecution.
It was alleged that the sustained nature of the attack on him and his friends showed at least some of Group B were intent on causing serious harm.
One of those with the victim was said to have produced a knife at one stage in a bid to keep the attackers back.
So far 10 members of Group B have been arrested, with murder charges also brought against another 18-year-old man and a 16-year-old youth.
McCann went to police later on December 12 to confirm he had been at the scene after being contacted by a friend, the court was told.
Mrs McKay said he told officers: “I was fighting with the wee man who was murdered.”
But McCann insisted that he only intervened in a bid to stop a clash between Mr Meli and one of those in his group.
He claimed to have thrown one punch in self-defence after a blow was directed at him.
McCann and Mr Meli both fell to the ground before the accused was dragged away, the court heard.
Opposing bail, the prosecution also expressed concerns for his own safety.
“All persons arrested in connection with this murder have received threat messages,” Mrs McKay disclosed.
Defence barrister Joe Brolly argued that McCann provided a full account to police once he learned of the death.
“None of the witnesses who have made statements have implicated him in the murder,” Mr Brolly stressed.
Pressed on that point by the judge, Mrs McKay confirmed: “That is correct.”
Granting bail, Mr Justice Horner ordered McCann to live under curfew at an undisclosed address said to be 30 miles from Belfast.
He also banned the accused from entering the city, or either the Twinbrook or Poleglass estates.