Two teenagers accused of killing west Belfast shopkeeper Harry Holland have had murder charges against them dropped.
The dramatic development came yesterday when the pair pleaded guilty to lesser charges at Belfast Crown Court.
Eighteen-year-old Patrick James Stephen Crossan from Willowbank Gardens in west Belfast admitted causing an affray and possession of an offensive weapon, namely a knife.
And a 17-year-old girl who cannot be named because of her age pleaded guilty to affray and another charge of common assault. However, she entered a plea of not guilty to a count of occasioning actual bodily harm.
Earlier this week Stephen McKee (18) from Ballymurphy Road confessed to murdering the popular father of four outside his home in September 2007.
Mr Holland, who owned a fruit and vegetable shop on the Glen Road, was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver as he tried to stop car thieves stealing his delivery van. Neighbours found him gravely injured on the street outside his home at Norfolk Drive. He died shortly after being admitted to hospital.
In court yesterday prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy QC said there had been “insufficient evidence” to pursue with murder charges against Crossan and the teenage girl, but recommended the charge be left on the court books.
Crossan was led into the dock handcuffed to a prison guard. He was dressed in a grey suit, blue shirt and blue tie. His head was shaved and he wore a gold ring on one finger.
The young girl wore jeans with a pink belt, pink shoes, a white waistcoat and vest with a leopard print scarf around her neck.
Her bleached blonde hair was scraped back in two plaits. She was seated beside a prison officer at the rear of the courtroom as she is still too young to go into the dock. At times during the 30-minute hearing she appeared to wipe her eyes.
Just a short distance away in the public gallery sat Mr Holland’s heartbroken family including his wife Pauline, their four daughters and his sisters.
Defence barrister Philip Magee SC, who was representing Crossan, said his client had “been known” to educational psychologists for a number of years. He said he would be furnishing the court with psychiatric and psychologists’ reports before sentence is passed next month.
Dermott Fee QC, who was defending the 17-year-old girl, also said he would be supplying the court with reports from the Youth Justice Agency, who have been monitoring her behaviour while out on bail, and a psychiatrist.
“She was 15 years and eight months when this unfortunate incident occurred. She was doing her GCSEs. She did complete some GCSEs at another school, but her education has been affected.”
There were no objections to Mr Fee’s application for continuing bail for his client.
Crossan, McKee and the 17-year-old girl are due to be sentenced on June 25.