Killer of ‘well-read peaceful Buddhist’ sentenced to jail

James Hughes was stabbed to death in his home at Divis Tower, Belfast
James Hughes was stabbed to death in his home at Divis Tower, Belfast

A paranoid schizophrenic who stabbed his neighbour 33 times after consuming a combination of Buckfast wine and medication was told today he will serve a minimum jail term of eight years for the “brutal and unnecessary” death.

James Brendan Patrick Devine – who has a history of violent offending including stabbing two fellow residents at a hostel – was handed an indeterminate custodial sentence with a minimum eight-year sentence for the manslaughter of 62-year-old James Hughes.

The 44-year-old stabbed his neighbour and stole £6,000 cash from him in November 2016, then left Divis Tower and visited relatives in Ballymoney.

Mr Hughes was last seen on the evening of Friday, November 4, and two days later, Devine handed his sister a wad of cash, told her it was his savings and asked her to take it, saying: “Where I am going, I’ll not need it.”

Over dinner, he told his sister he stabbed Seamus – the name he knew the deceased by – saying: “I stabbed him and I stabbed him.”

During this confession, Devine said Mr Hughes was begging for his life, but that he could not stop.

His sister contacted the PSNI, and Devine was arrested in Ballymoney on the evening of Sunday, November 6, and brought back to Belfast for questioning.

Police attended Mr Hughes flat at Divis Tower around 7.30pm on Sunday.

They noticed the front door had been forced open, and saw a trial of blood from the front door to the kitchen, where the remains of Mr Hughes were found.

His body was sitting on a computer chair with his head leaning against the wall.

There was dried blood on his chest, head and face, and a pool of blood around his feet.

Two knives were lying on the floor, and a post mortem confirmed the deceased had been stabbed 33 times.

During today’s sentencing, Mr Justice Colton said: “It is clear from the statements of his close relatives that James Hughes was a well-read, thoughtful human, being committed to the Buddhist philosophy of peace, which makes his violent death all the more poignant.”

Following his arrest, the court heard that whilst he was initially compliant, Devine lashed out and was verbally abusive to officers.

He made a number of comments to police, including saying “I murdered him... I killed a man... I have to own up to it... I killed him because I had to”.

However, when he was interviewed over the following two days, police were given a prepared statement in which Devine said he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and claimed he remembered nothing of the killing, or the alleged confessions made to his sister and mother.

Mr Hughes’s blood was found on Devine’s watchstrap and his clothing.

Whilst Devine was initially charged with murder, a plea to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility was accepted by the Crown.

Mr Justice Colton quoted from a doctor’s report which stated Devine “has a long-standing diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia dating back from 2006”.

Speaking after the sentencing, PSNI Detective Inspector Joanne Harris said: “This was a particularly vicious murder and, while I welcome the sentence from the court today, I know this will be of little comfort to James Hughes’ loved ones and friends.”

In a statement issued by family of Mr Hughes, they said the 62-year-old had been “failed” by police and statutory agencies.

It added: “(Devine) was known to police and social services and the NI Housing Executive as a highly dangerous and disruptive individual.

“Someone made the decision to place him within the Divis Tower complex.

“From the moment he arrived he engaged in a daily routine of threats, assaults and anti-social behaviour.

“Those who placed him in this position knew that this was inevitable.

“These statutory agencies need to explain why the residents of Divis Tower were placed at risk and why when that risk became a reality no steps were taken to protect James or any of his neighbours.

“Answers to these questions might serve to stop another James Hughes being murdered in the safety of his home.”