Belfast brothers jailed for 'vicious and frightening attack' on drug dealer
Two Northern Ireland brothers who subjected a man to a "vicious and frightening attack" during which he was struck on the head with a handgun, held against his will and robbed have been jailed.
Robert Samuel Stewart (30) and his 37-year old brother Neil Stewart were each handed a sentence of four years for the roles they played in the August 2015 incident.
Belfast Crown Court heard that the injured party - a drug dealer with 95 convictions on his criminal record - was pistol whipped and punched at premises on Thorndyke Street.
Witnesses to the early morning attack reported noticing a disturbance, hearing a man calling for help from an upstairs window then being pulled back into the room by Samuel Stewart.
The brothers admitted three charges arising from the early morning incident - namely robbing their victim of £100, a mobile phone and a watch, falsely imprisoning him and possessing a firearm or intimidation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence.
Samuel and Neil Stewart - whose addresses were both given as Lomond Street in Belfast - were informed by Judge Geoffery Miller QC that they will serve two years of their sentence in prison, with the remaining two years spent on supervised licence when they are released from custody.
The court heard that the brothers had a dysfunctional childhood, and both abused drink and drugs. While father of seven Neil Stewart came before the court with 140 previous convictions, Samuel Stewart was described as having behavioural traits that would indicate he had a sociopathic personality.
Prior to passing sentence, Judge Miller was told by Crown prosecutor Philip Henry that whilst the brothers pleas were not immediate, they were nonetheless welcomed as both the injured party and witnesses were "reluctant" to come to court, had their been a trial.
Telling the court that the Stewart brothers and the injured party had known each other for around 10 years prior to the events of August 26, 2015, Mr Henry said the brothers arrived at the house at around 3.25am.
Once inside, a handgun was produced by Neil Stewart, who hit the other man round the head with the weapon around four times. He was also punched in the face several times by Samuel Stewart.
During the incident, the injured party was held against his will in a bedroom, and was also robbed of money, a phone and a watch.
Mr Henry said the injured man went to hospital where he was treated for two lacerations on his head which required staples. He was asked by doctors to remain at the hospital for observation, but left after two hours.
The prosecutor told the court that when spoken to by police, the injured party "named the defendants as being the people responsible for the attack." He also said the Crown could not say "beyond reasonable doubt" that the gun involved - which has never been recovered - was a real firearm.
Defence barrister Michael Boyd, representing Samuel Stewart, pointed out difficulties the Crown had with reluctant witnesses and said the brothers "deserve some credit for facing up to their responsibilities".
Telling the court his client "knows full well that his behaviour on that night was unacceptable, thuggish in the extreme and without any justification whatsoever", Mr Boyd said there were "no lasting injuries caused to the complainant."
Mr Boyd also branded the incident as without planning and unsophisticated, saying it was "a plan that was hatched on the spot in a drunken haze." He said the brothers went to the house after a third man called to their Willowfield flat, and provided them with "information" which "in a drink and drug-induced state, they decided to act upon it."
The barrister said the brothers were "always going to be identified" as they knew the injured party well.
Mr Boyd concluded by saying that whilst his client's criminal record is "nothing to be proud of",
Samuel Stewart's dysfunctional childhood led to a "somewhat inevitable drift into alcohol, drug abuse and criminality.
Taylor Campbell, the barrister representing Neil Stewart, said the incident "lacked professional hallmarks". He also said that a third party had a row with the injured party about drugs prior to the attack, who in turn "recruited" the Stewart brothers.
Mr Campbell told the court: "One minute they were in their own flat minding their own business, and the next they are bursting into a house ... where they committed a grave offence."
The barrister revealed that at the time of the incident, Neil Stewart was living in Donaghadee as he had been put out of east Belfast by paramilitaries. Mr Campbell also said his client had "significant mental health issues" and had elements of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of being attacked by paramilitaries in his youth.
Passing sentence, Judge Miller branded the offences as "serious" and said the "shocking and violent incident" has left the injured party with both physical and psychological trauma.
The Judge also said the injured man had "an extensive record ... including relevant convictions for drug dealing" which may have been a motive for the attack.