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Belfast man who bit off victim's ear avoids jail after 'road to Damascus conversion'

By John Cassidy

A cousin of murder victim Edward Gibson who bit off a man's ear during a feud was given a suspended sentence on Friday after a 'road to Damascus conversion'' in his life.

A judge at Belfast Crown Court told Kieran McAuley (31), of Ardmoulin Place, that if he had convicted after trial of the charge of affray he would have received a sentence of five years.

Imposing instead a three-and-a-half-year sentence suspended for three years, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC said the defendant had "changed his life around'' since the street fight over two years ago and was now leading a Christian life.

Prosecutor Philip Henry told the court that a fight broke out in Cullingtree Road in West Belfast which last for over two hours on the afternoon of October 24, 2015.

He said the drunken feud involved Edward Gibson along with members of another family and an associate who had accused Gibson of "raping'' a female member of that family.

The court heard McAuley received a phone call from Gibson that day to say that there was a fight and he went to the scene to "back him up''.

During the melee, the court was told the rival faction made "derogatory comments about the defendant being sexually abused as a child''.

The judge heard that this rival had armed themselves with pizza cutters, knives and billiard balls in socks.

A short time later, McAuley went over to one of his rivals and "bit his ear off''. During police interview, McAuley - who was known locally as 'Bo Bo' - said he "would have bitten his whole face off''.

McAuley also told police that during the street fight he had had been "struck over the head with a pool ball inside a sock''.

Later that day McAuley's cousin Edward Gibson (28) was shot in the stomach and thigh in an alley way near Divis Tower. He later died in hospital of his injuries.

The court heard at the time of the offences McAuley was in breach of seven suspended sentences which amounted to six years and eight months in custody.

Defence barrister Sean Devine said McAuley went to the scene as "back up to his cousin to even things up and did not go there to deliberately hurt anyone.''

He told Judge Miller QC that McAuley has now "completely changed his life around'' after having to move to England following a death threat.

Mr Devine added: "He now devotes his life to religious fellowship. He has given his life up to the Lord. He has given his life up to public service.''

He urged the court not to interfere with his liberty and allow him to continue with his Christian outreach work in England.

 Judge Miller QC said it was clear that McAuley had had a "road to Damascus conversion'' since the affray had decided to suspend his three-and-a-half year sentence.

 The judge added: "I have a firm belief, given all that the papers I have read, that you will not be back in this court and I trust that this is the case.''

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