Emotional scenes as trio remanded over death of Christopher Meli

Vanessa (mother) of  Christopher Meli is comforted at Lisburn Court as three teenagers have been charged with murder
Vanessa (mother) of Christopher Meli is comforted at Lisburn Court as three teenagers have been charged with murder

Three teenagers have been remanded in custody accused of murdering a young Belfast father at an emotionally charged court hearing.

Christopher Meli, 20, was beaten to death on a pathway in the Twinbrook area of west Belfast at the weekend.

Detectives believe up to 20 people were involved in a number of violent incidents that ended with the father-of-one’s murder on grassland known as Doc’s Lane in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Stephen McCann and Lee Smyth, both 18, and a 16-year-old male - who cannot be named for legal reasons - appeared before a district judge in Lisburn Magistrates’ Court.

McCann, from Bearnagh Glen in west Belfast, and Smyth, from Colinbrook Gardens in Dunmurry, sat with their heads bowed in the dock as Mr Meli’s parents watched from the front row of a packed public gallery.

The charged youth sat at the front of the court outside the dock.

There were distressing scenes as the victim’s parents, Christopher Meli senior and Vanessa Burke, were comforted by friends and family. At one point Ms Burke cried out: “I’m never going to see my boy again.”

Of the three accused, only McCann applied for bail. District judge Rosemary Watters rejected the application and remanded all three in custody to appear before the court again via video-link at a later date.

Earlier, an investigating police officer told the judge he could connect all three accused to the murder charge.

The detective said when McCann presented himself at a police station in Belfast on Saturday, he told officers he had been “in that fight last night and was fighting with the wee man who was murdered”.

McCann’s solicitor told the court his client had intervened in a fight between Mr Meli and a youth and, in his attempt to “innocently” break it up, he punched Mr Meli - although “not forcefully”.

The lawyer said McCann had also told police that someone in the company of Mr Meli had produced a knife and tried to stab him.

In accounts given to detectives, McCann said one of his friends had attempted to fend off the individual with the knife and sustained two stab wounds in the process.

The solicitor said his client had actually tried to go to the aid of the stricken Mr Meli, but had been pulled away.

Judge Watters refused bail citing police concern that McCann might attempt to interfere with the police investigation if freed.

A solicitor for Smyth said his client had told police he had been involved in an altercation with Mr Meli. The lawyer said Smyth claimed he had also been attacked with a knife on the night in question.

A legal representative for the unnamed youth insisted his client denied the offence of murder.

The police officer told the judge that the 16-year-old had admitted assaulting Mr Meli.

His solicitor responded: “That’s a long way from admitting the offence he is charged with today.”

Two other males - aged 18 and 17 - continue to be questioned by detectives about the murder.

Hundreds of people supported Mr Meli’s family at a candlelit vigil in Belfast’s Springfield Road on Monday evening.