Teenager charged with Christopher Meli murder refused bail
One of the teenagers accused of beating a young father to death in west Belfast must remain in custody, a High Court judge has ruled.
Madam Justice McBride refused bail to Lee Smyth after rejecting claims that he should be released due to delays in the investigation into the killing of Christopher Meli.
Smyth, 19, of Colinbrook Gardens in Dunmurry, is among three teenagers charged with murdering the 20-year-old on December 12 last year.
A witness has made a disputed claim that he whistled for others to join in the attack.
Detectives believe up to 20 people were involved in a number of violent confrontations that led to Mr Meli suffering fatal head injuries at Doc’s Lane in the Twinbrook area of the city.
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Prosecutors have alleged that he was set upon by a large group of both males and females, and subjected to “a sustained, savage attack.”
One line of enquiry is that the murder victim and his friends were targeted in retaliation for a clash outside a kebab shop on the Stewartstown Road earlier the same night.
Another group of teenagers came together to “exact revenge” for that fight in which in one of their number sustaining a “busted nose”, the court was told previously.
Mr Meli was said to have been located, knocked to the ground and then repeatedly punched and kicked about the head.
Smyth, who denies the charge against him, went to police later that day to give an account of his alleged involvement in the wider incident.
He claimed to have exchanged blows with Mr Meli in a “fair fight” where both were on the ground as others set upon them, a judge was told.
But according to the prosecution a witness alleged that Smyth whistled as a signal for others to join him.
It was claimed that he then started to assault Mr Meli on the ground, kicking him to the face and stomach, with another of those at the scene said to have remarked: “He’s dying.”
The murder victim’s mother, Venessa Burke, was present in court with other family members as Smyth mounted a fresh application for bail.
Defence counsel Tom McCreanor argued that a date for submitting a preliminary investigation file to the Director of Public Prosecution has been missed.
Raising further concerns with progressing forensics in the case, he predicted any trial may not get underway until next year.
“It’s a concern that whilst awaiting that this young man is going to be detained in custody for that period,” Mr McCreanor said.
But prosecution counsel responded that police are expected to have the file ready by the middle of next month.
She revealed that a major investigation team handling the case are also in the process of interviewing four more potential witnesses.
Refusing bail, Madam Justice McBride ruled: “The delay is not significant enough to amount to a material change of circumstances.
“It may be at a later date if there’s ongoing delay.