A 42-year old heroin addict who stabbed another man to death at a house in Bangor was on Friday handed a seven-year prison sentence.
Paul Stephen Bustard, who is originally from Bangor but whose address was given as Bush Park in Antrim, admitted the manslaughter of Stephen Liam Davidson in the early hours of Sunday February 10, 2013.
Bustard – who has described in court as a “dangerous offender” with 81 previous convictions including offences for violence – was excused from appearing in the dock, resulting in Mr Justice Maguire passing sentence in his absence.
Mr Davidson’s lifeless body was found in the living room of his Ballyholme Road home by his mother at around 4.45pm on February 10, 2013. She called to his home and made the shocking discovery after trying to get in touch with him earlier that day.
The 31-year old died of two stab wounds to the chest which penetrated his heart. He also suffered a number of other injuries to his face and body.
In his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Maguire spoke of the “horrendous” impact the death of her only child has had on the victim’s mother and said that as a result “her life has been turned upside down”.
The Judge also spoke of a number of aggravating factors – including Bustard’s previous violent convictions, the fact that he sought no help for Mr Davidson after the stabbing and the Probation Board’s assessment that Bustard presenting a significant risk to the public.
As well as handing Bustard a seven-year prison sentence, Mr Justice Maguire also imposed an extended period of four years on licence upon his release.
At a previous hearing, Crown prosecutor David McDowell QC told Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, that Bustard – who had been with Davidson prior to the fatal knife attack – was arrested in Bangor on the afternoon of Monday February 11, 2013.
From the outset, Bustard made the case that he was acting in self-defence.
The court heard that the men had “a history of illicit drug use” and were both prescribed methodone for their heroin addictions.
On the afternoon of Saturday February 9th, the two were seen together in Bangor and appeared to be under the influence of drugs. Later that evening, the two men and Bustard’s girlfriend Meabh Farrell firstly went to Bustard’s house at Avonlea Park before travelling across the town to Mr Davidson’s home.
Mr McDowell said that last contact made by Mr Davidson was around 2.30am on Sunday February 10th, when he texted his girlfriend to say he was at home and would text again in the morning.
Around half an hour later, Bustard was seen staggering up the middle of the Ballyholme Road, waving his arms in an “odd fashion” and with blood dripping from his hand.
It is therefore the Crown’s case, the court heard, that “the incident occurred between 2.30am and 3am” and that the three people present were Stephen Davidson, Paul Bustard and Meabh Farrell. Mr McDowell said that following the stabbing, “no assistance was sought for Stephen Davidson and none was rendered”.
Bustard claimed he stabbed Mr Davidson in self-defence as he was attacked with a knife and hit on the head with a dumbell, but the Crown said it was impossible to determine exactly what happened due to the “inconsistencies” given by Bustard.
One such inconsistency was that Bustard initially claimed Ms Farrell had sustained injuries to her arms during the incident – which it later emerged were self-inflicted.
In May of this year, Ms Farrell was made the subject of a two-year probation order after she admitted causing injuries to her forearms and abdomen in a bid to fool police into believing Mr Davidson had caused the wounds. She also offered assistance to Bustard, including helping to find him accommodation, which helped him evade arrest in the wake of the fatal knife attack.
The court also heard Ms Farrell described as a chronic alcoholic who, when in a relationship with a man with a criminal disposition, would become “submissive” to an “aggressive” male.
Following the stabbing, Bustard was captured on the CCTV camera at a garage on the Ballyholme Road. He tried unsuccessfully to get a taxi for him and Ms Farrell and was then seen walking towards High Street.
Farrell was with Bustard and at this point, the couple tried to get a taxi but no-one would take them. At 3.15am, a call was made to the Emergency Services from Ms Farrell’s phone requesting an ambulance before the call was disconnected.
The court heard that Bustard said he didn’t go to hospital to be treated for his injuries as he claimed Ms Farrell told him he would be a ‘cert’ to be arrested.
Mr McDowell said that in the wake of the stabbing and over the course of Sunday 10 and Monday 11 February, the couple “made efforts” to keep away from the police, and that during that time Ms Farrell sought an address for Bustard where he would not be located.
During this time, two other people – Bustard’s mother Olwyn and his friend James Owen Gawn – were implicated in the incident and appeared in the dock during Friday’s sentencing. They were both given suspended sentences by Mr Justice Maguire.
Olwyn Bustard, 63, from Rubgy Avenue in Bangor, pleaded guilty to a charge of assisting an offender. Mrs Bustard admitted sending a text message to her son on February 11, 2013 advising him to switch his phone off as police were seeking him, after officers called to her home.
James Owen Gawn, 51, from High Street in Bangor, was charged with withholding information about the fatal incident. Gawn pleaded guilty to failing to provide information to police on a date between February 9 and 12, 2013, as he offered to let Bustard stay in his flat.
Bustard and Ms Farrell were arrested in a town centre pub at 1.40pm on Monday February 11th.
He As soon as he was arrested, Bustard made the case that he acted in self-defence and that Mr Davidson had attacked him. He was subsequently treated in hospital for a head wound.
During his arrest, Bustard was aggressive to police, claimed he had Hepatitis and threatened to bite and spit in the face of the arresting officers “so they would get liver cancer.”
During police interviews, Bustard said that whilst he knew Mr Davidson it was not usual for them to be in each other’s company – but they had been together for the 36 hours prior to the stabbing.
Bustard claimed that when they were in Mr Davidson’s house, he offered Bustard and Ms Farrell a bed to stay in but that “something didn’t seem right”.
He also claimed that Mr Davidson showed him images of loyalist paramilitaries on his phone, punched him then struck him round the head with a dumbell.
Regarding the stabbing, Bustard made the case that he jabbed him once in the ribs – but this claim, the Crown say, was “in direct contrast to the results of the post mortem”.
Pointing out the aggravating factors, prosecutor David McDowell spoke of Bustard’s previous criminal record for similar offences, a complete failure to render any assistance to Mr Davidson and his behaviour after the incident.
Defence barrister John McCrudden QC, acting on behalf of Bustard, said the basis of his client’s guilty plea to manslaughter was that he was acting in self-defence, which “passed the line in an unintended injury which caused the death of Mr Davidson”.
The barrister said: “I have been specifically instructed by Mr Bustard to make a complete and unqualified apology to the family, the relatives and the friends of the deceased, Mr Davidson.”
Saying that from the very outset his client had admitted stabbing Mr Davidson, Mr McCrudden said Bustard “didn’t try to avoid” responsibility, but made the case that the fatal stabbing “occurred in the throes of an attack” on him. He also pointed out that Bustard was treated for “very serious injuries” following his arrest.
Mr McCrudden also told the court that Bustard was a heroin addict, said he was under the influence of drugs at the time of the stabbing and revealed that whilst in custody Bustard has been “engaging with various services to address his substance abuse.”
Eugene Grant QC, representing Olwyn Bustard, asked the court to show her a “degree of empathy” because “as a mother, she took a very pragmatic view of the situation.”
Mr Grant said his client admitted sending a text message advising her son to turn his phone off after police called to her home – but that her actions had “very little impact on the investigation” as her son was arrested “a short period of hours” after she sent the text.
Conan Rea, the barrister representing Gawn, spoke of the fact that the case had been “hanging over” his client’s head for over two years.
Revealing Gawn admitted sending a text telling Bustard to “stay put” in his flat, Mr Rea said Bustard was arrested around two hours later, meaning his culpability was limited to a “two to three hour window” on Monday February 11.
Mr Justice Maguire handed both Olwyn Bustard and James Gawn a 12-month prison sentence, which was suspended for two years.