Larne gang attack victim ‘thought he was going to die’

Court
Court

A man who was attacked by a masked and armed gang who forced their way into his Larne home believed he was going to die, a court has heard.

The victim lost consciousness on his kitchen floor after being surrounded and beaten by the gang, whilst his two daughters and disabled son were also in the property.

The non-jury Diplock trial heard that at one stage, the victim believed the crowd which attacked his home amounted to around 70 people.

Standing trial on charges arising from the incident are Greenisland men Steven Adam Blackwood, 30, and 35-year-old Stephen Mettleton.

Both are accused of being part of the gang which targeted the house and attacked the occupant on Sunday March 30, 2014.

Blackwood, from Moyard Gardens and Mettleton, from Rossmore Green, are standing trial at Belfast Crown Court on a total of four charges including attempting to murder the occupant, causing criminal damage to his home and contents, and intimidating him and his partner to leave their home.

The Crown say the pair are linked to the incident via DNA evidence, that they were part of the crowd and that due to the beating with weapons which occurred, it was “reasonable to infer those involved in the attack were possessed of a murderous intent”.

Both men denied involvement in the attack and claimed during police interviews they hadn’t been in Larne in years.

Outlining the case against the two men to Judge Alistair Devlin, prosecuting barrister Neil Connor QC said the occupant was in his Knockdhu Park home with his family at around 6pm on the evening in question when he heard a male voice outside saying ‘you’re all dead’.

Looking out an upstairs window, the occupant noticed a number of masked men getting out of several vehicles armed with hammers, baseball bats, machetes, hatchets and sticks.

Telling the court that the occupant believed the “assembled crowd” amounted to around 70 people, Mr Connor said that when he saw the group making their way to his home “he instructed his two daughters to go to their bedroom and hide under the bed, and that his disabled son should go into his specially adapted bedroom”.

As the occupant made his way downstairs, he was unable to see out as the front door and living room windows were boarded up due to a prior attack on the property.

As the crowd came closer to his house, the occupant heard someone talk about going round the back, then he heard glass being broken at the rear of the house.

Standing in the hallway, the occupant watched the boarded-up front door being struck repeatedly with hammers and hatchets until it started to give way.

Mr Connor said that as the occupant retreated into the kitchen, he became aware that the front door had been forced open and that some of the crowd were in his home. Some of the crowd entered the living room where they smashed furniture, while others made their way upstairs.

While the occupant was holding the kitchen door shut in an effort to keep the crowd out, he was “struck on the back of his head by one of a number of bricks and other missiles thrown through the kitchen window”.

As he tried to stop people climbing through the kitchen window, the occupant was “quickly surrounded” and beaten by the armed intruders who attacked him with a “variety of weapons” including a hammer.

Mr Connor said: “He tried to protect himself with his hands, but given the number of attackers and the severity of the attack, this proved futile. He believed he was going to die as a result of this attack.”

As the occupant fell to the floor, the last thing he remembered before he became unconscious was that his kitchen was full of masked men.

He didn’t regain consciousness until after he arrived at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

He was initially admitted to the hospital’s accident and emergency department before being transferred to the intensive care unit. He was then transferred to a general ward five days after he was brought to hospital.

The injuries he sustained in the attack included a fractured skull, multiple head lacerations which required staples and stitches, multiple fractured ribs and a ruptured spleen.

Telling the court that as a result of the incident the occupant and his family were unable to return to their home, Mr Connor added: “The prosecution submit that the nature of and extent of the injuries sustained are such that it is reasonable to infer that those involved in the attack were possessed of a murderous intent.”

When police attended the area as part of their investigation, the occupant’s partner identified a number of items which were left at the scene. These included latex gloves, a black balaclava and a hammer.

Also searched was a wheelie bin around 400 metres from the scene of the attack. Items found in that bin, which the Crown say were linked to the attack, included black balaclavas, gloves and a claw hammer.

These items were later forensically tested and a partial DNA profile from the head of the hammer found in the bin matched that of the injured occupant.

The court also heard that a DNA profile obtained from inside one of the black balaclavas matched the profile attributed to Blackwood, while a DNA sample taken from a pair of gloves matched Mettleton’s DNA profile.

In addition, Mettleton claimed to have been in Ballyclare with his girlfriend at the time of the attack, but analysis of his mobile phone revealed that on the evening of March 30 last year his phone was “at or within the vicinity” of the attacked home in Larne.

Mr Connor said it was the Crown’s case that both Blackwood and Mettleton “were involved in an orchestrated attack ... as part of a joint enterprise involving a considerable number of masked persons”.

At hearing.