Standing just feet from their son’s murderers, Thomas Devlin’s parents watched intently as the two child killers were led handcuffed from the courtroom to spend between them a minimum of 52 years behind bars.
Gary Taylor smirked slightly as he was ordered to spend at least 30 years in prison, while Nigel Brown stared blankly ahead when he was told he would serve a minimum of 22 years for the “merciless” and “motiveless” murder of the 15-year-old schoolboy.
CCTV footage retrieved by detectives shows the pair in a lift leaving their flats in north Belfast’s Mount Vernon estate just minutes before they murdered Thomas as he walked home from a shop with two friends in August 2005.
After five years tirelessly fighting for justice for their son, yesterday at Belfast Crown Court was the moment Penny Holloway and Jim Devlin had been waiting for.
Rising from their seats in the courtroom they turned to face the killers for the last time and watched carefully as they were taken away by prison guards.
“This is every parent’s worst nightmare. Your son goes out one evening with his friends and doesn’t come home. It is something that you can never imagine is going to happen to you,” Penny said yesterday.
She added: “Thomas was our youngest son. He was a bright and intelligent teenager who was kind, caring, fun-loving and popular with all of those who knew him.
“Thomas had his whole life ahead of him and he has been denied his life and all of the opportunities open to him purely because Gary Taylor and Nigel Brown very deliberately chose to take his life away from him.
“In our view, while both men will be in prison for many years for killing Thomas, the simple fact is that we as a family will forever more have a huge void in our lives where Thomas was and should be now.
“It is almost five years since Thomas was attacked and killed. He quite simply did not deserve to be murdered.
“There is a very real sadness in us when we consider what has been taken from him. We miss him hugely and for us this will always be the case as we face our futures without him.”
Brown and Taylor did not look towards each other as they sat in the dock awaiting sentencing. When Brown (27) entered the dock he attempted to smile at Taylor, but was ignored by the 23-year-old.
Brown fidgeted throughout the 50-minute sentencing, while Taylor, dressed in a navy and grey tracksuit, sat rigid in his seat staring straight ahead.
Judge Mr Justice McLaughlin told the court that even though Brown and Taylor “have deeply ingrained, bitter sectarian attitudes towards Catholics”, he could not be sure that the attack on the three friends was sectarian.
He said he believed it was a “motiveless” attack on “utterly defenceless and harmless boys”. He added that he was going to send out a “clear, unambiguous message” about the determination of the courts “to deal decisively with vicious violence of this kind”.
For sake of Thomas’s memory, justice had to be done
One of Thomas Devlin’s friends, who was with him on the night of his murder, has said that his life has changed forever since the brutal attack on August 10, 2005.
Fintan Maguire was strolling back from a local shop with Thomas and another friend, Jonathan McKee, when Brown and Taylor launched their murderous attack.
Fintan managed to escape over a school gate but Jonathan and Thomas were grabbed back by the killers.
Once Taylor had a hold of Thomas he stabbed him with a knife at least nine times in the body and face.
After leaving Thomas in a pool of blood Taylor then turned to Jonathan, who had been brutally beaten by Brown, and stabbed him.
Taylor and Brown then fled the scene, leaving Thomas lying dying just yards from his home.
“We were just three boys who weren't expecting any of this. In our home area I always felt very safe until that night. Things have definitely changed for us all since then,” Fintan said yesterday.
“It has been very difficult the whole way through, but justice has been done and it needed to be done for me, Johnny and Thomas’ family. For the sake of Thomas’ memory, justice needed to be carried out,” he added.
Fintan joined Thomas’ family in court yesterday to see Brown and Taylor sentenced for murdering Thomas and attempting to murder Jonathan.
“I expected from the start it was going to be very difficult to sit in the same courtroom as them but I think it had to be done and it was worth it in the end,” he said.
The evil killers left to fester in our jails
Gary Taylor has been ordered to serve one of the highest minimum tariffs to be handed down by the Northern Ireland courts.
Judge Mr Justice McLaughlin decided to impose the minimum 30-year tariff on the grounds that his culpability was “exceptionally high”, the victim was a child and that the attempted murder of Jonathan McKee was close to the definition of “multiple murders”.
Other killers serving high life tariffs in Northern Ireland include:
- Trevor Hamilton, who abducted and murdered Strabane pensioner Attracta Harron in 2003. Hamilton was originally ordered to spend the rest of his life in jail, however, the Court of Appeal quashed the whole-life tariff and ordered him to serve at least 35 years.
- Steven Brown, also known as Steven Revels, who murdered teenagers Andrew Robb and David McIlwaine in Tandragee in 2000, was jailed for a minimum of 30 years for his role in “one of the most gruesome murders of the past 40 years in Northern Ireland”.
- LVF terrorist Jim Fulton is serving a minimum 28 years for involvement in the murder of grandmother Elizabeth O'Neill in 1999.
- William James Stevenson received a minimum 25-year tariff for strangling pensioner Lily Smyth in in 1988.