Belfast Telegraph

Anguish for Christopher Meli's mum as Belfast murder suspects' bail relaxed

 

By Claire McNeilly

The devastated mum of a young father-of-one who was brutally beaten to death says she feels "deeply betrayed" after the men accused of her son's murder had their bail conditions relaxed.

Christopher Meli's body was discovered on a pathway in Glasvey Close in Twinbrook after a sustained and vicious assault on December 12, 2015.

Detectives believe up to 20 people were involved in a number of violent incidents that ended in the 20-year-old former De La Salle pupil's death on grassland known as Doc's Lane.

Belfast men Stephen McCann (20) from Bernagh Glen, along with 18-year-olds Caolan Laverty from Broom Park and Lee Smyth from Colinbrook Gardens, are jointly accused of his murder.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, his heartbroken mother Vanessa Burke (41) said her family had been failed by the justice system following changes to the restrictins placed on two of the accused.

"It's an absolute nightmare," she said.

"McCann no longer has to report to the police twice a week. His curfew was also changed until 11pm instead of 10pm."

The home-maker added she was finding it hard to come to terms with what she saw as "the leniency" being afforded to those accused of her eldest child's death.

"I just can't get my head round it; where's the justice for my son?" she said.

"It also sickens me to know there may be people out there who were there that night and who still haven't come forward."

Almost two years later, the family maintain a shrine to Christopher - affectionately known as Christy - in the living room of their west Belfast home, where photographs, prayer cards, candles, rosary beads and other religious memorabilia are dedicated to the son and brother that his mum, dad Christy (49), and siblings Ryan (17), Caolan (9), Aaron (7) and Jayden (4) will never forget.

Vanessa said her four-year-old grandson Kyle Christopher - Christopher's son - brings her joy, comfort and profound sadness in equal measure.

"He's got Christopher's ears and Christopher's chin; when I look at him I see my son and it reminds me of how much has been taken from me," she said.

"I want our voice to be heard and I want to keep Christopher's memory alive."

The mother-of-six said that "medication and my other children" helped her to keep going, adding that her 11-month-old daughter Christine gives her special strength.

"I was two weeks' pregnant with her when I lost Christopher," she said.

"She came as a big shock. I didn't even know I was pregnant. I call her my little gift. I was scared she was going to be a boy, because it wasn't about replacing him.

"Christopher knew I always wanted a girl. He'd be happy to know I got my wish. I called her Christine after him."

Varying the bail conditions last week for the accused, District Judge Rosie Watters removed the reporting conditions, relaxed McCann's curfew to 11pm and removed the restriction that keeps him out of greater Belfast.

He no longer has to present at a police station, although he is still banned from going into the Poleglass and Twinbrook areas of west Belfast.

The judge also said that McCann would still be electronically tagged, and added a condition that bars him from drinking alcohol.

Giving evidence, the officer in charge of the investigation, DS McCready, told the court that eight other people had been reported to the Public Prosecution Service over the incident. It is understood a decision over their potential prosecution is still being considered.

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