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Belfast men's prison sentences total 32 years for roles in 'cruel and utterly senseless' Ravenhill double murder

By Ashleigh McDonald

Published 30/06/2015

Two Belfast men were today handed prison sentences totalling 32 years for the roles they played in the "cruel and utterly senseless" murder of friends Caron Smyth and Finbar McGrillen.

Shaun Patrick Joseph Hegarty (34), formerly of Grainne House in the New Lodge area of Belfast and co-accused Ciaran Nugent who is also 34 and formerly of the Simon Community on the Falls Road, appeared in the dock of Belfast Crown Court.

At previous hearing, the two men were handed life sentences after they both pleaded guilty to the murders of Caron Smyth (40) and Finbar McGrillen (42), who were found in the living room of Mr McGrillen's flat in the Ravenhill Court area of the city on Friday December 13, 2013.

The friends - who were described in court as "two innocent people" - sustained multiple injuries including fractured ribs and damaged organs, as well as scores of internal and external wounds to the head, neck and chest which were consistent with being punched, kicked and stamped on.

Hegarty - who had been in a relationship with Ms Smyth which ended days prior to her murder - was told he will serve a minimum sentence of 18 years before he is eligible for consideration for release.

The north Belfast man, who has 79 previous convictions, pleaded guilty on the grounds of joint enterprise and that there was an intention to cause grievous bodily harm but not to kill.

Whilst on remand and whilst still denying involvement, Hegarty told a female relative "Two people have lost their lives because of us ... I'm haunting by what happened that night." He also wrote a letter saying "two people are in their graves long before their time because of what we did that night."

Pointing out that Hegarty was on bail when he committed the double murder and that part of his bail conditions was that he stayed away from Ms Smyth, Mr Justice Weir told the killer he acted as he did out of jealousy and anger.

The Judge also spoke of Hegarty's "unfortunate childhood" which included the brutal murder of Hegarty's younger brother Kieran who was aged 11 when he was killed on his way home from a local shop in Strabane.

Telling Hegarty he had "no doubt" that the murder of his younger brother when he was a teenager has had a significant impact on him, Mr Justice Weir said it was a "bitter irony" that someone who had suffered such a "violent bereavement" could go on to "casually inflict" the same suffering upon others as he had done.

Nugent pleaded guilty to the double murder on the grounds of joint enterprise, namely that he anticipated a serious assault would be carried out by Hegarty and that he assisted in efforts to clean the scene, but that he didn't inflict any injuries.

For this lesser role, Nugent was handed a minimum 14 year sentence and was told he will serve every day of the 14 years before he will be considered eligible for release by the Parole Commission.

Branding the double slaying of the two friends as "truly shocking", Mr Justice Weir spoke of the devasting impact the deaths have had on their families. The Judge told Hegarty and Nugent: "The lives of their close families have been permanently blighted by these dreadful crimes so casually committed."

Mr Justice Weir also said that after reading various victim impact reports, it was clear the relatives of the two murder victims "have been profoundly affected and will continue to suffer the consequences" of what happened in December 2013.

During today's tarriff hearing, Mr Justice Weir spoke of the fact that following the break-down of her relationship with Hegarty, Ms Smyth went to stay with her friend Mr McGrillen. Saying he imagined she felt safe there, the Judge said he felt Hegarty was motivated by anger and it was this anger that caused him to walk from north Belfast to Mr McGrillen's flat with Nugent in the early hours of December 12, 2013.

The Judge said that despite initial denials, Hegarty subsequently made the case that when he got to the flat at Ravenhill Court he gained entry by smashing a window before chasing his ex and her friend into the bedroom.

Hegarty claimed he then punched them to the head and body a few times before grabbing Ms Smyth by the throat and pushing her onto the bed. Addressing Hergarty, Mr Justice Weir said: "You say you didn't intent to strangle her or stop her breathing, that you didn't intend to cause her serious harm or kill her, that you were just angry."

This claim, the Judge said, didn't reflect the nature of the injuries inflicted on both victims in what he said "must have been a determined and sustained attack or multiple attacks over a period of time."

Police were called to the flat on the afternoon of Friday December 13 following reports of a break-in, and when they arrived at the scene they found the lifeless bodies of the friends lying on a duvet in the living room. A bottle of bleach was beside them, while a mop had been placed on top of them.

A concerted effort had been made to clean the murder scene and Nugent's DNA was found on the strainer area of a mop bucket in the flat.

Turning to Nugent Mr Justice Weir questioned why he would walk from one end of Belfast to the other in the early hours of the morning knowing that a serious assault was going to be launched on a woman "you knew and liked and on a man who you didn't know at all."

The Judge asked: "Why did you remain for a prolonged and very violent attack, and why did you become involved in cleaning up the murder scene?"

A previous hearing was told that Hegarty and Nugent were captured on CCTV at several locations including walking past the Big Fish at the Lagan Lookout at 3.56am and walking past a B&B on the Ravenhill Road around 4.20am. They were once again picked up on CCTV at 6.44am at a local taxi company on the Ormeau Road and at 7.11am on Botanic Avenue, where they ordered a taxi.

Hegarty was the first of the two to be arrested on Saturday 14 December, 2013. He initially denied the murders, but Crown prosecutor Ciaran Murphy said he made several admissions of guilt to his mother and sister.

In a phonecall to his mother on Christmas Day 2013, Hegarty told his mother "I have already made my mind up, I am putting my hands up ... I'm going to plead guilty."

And in a letter to his sister, Hegarty told her: "Two people have lost their lives because of us. I think about them all the time, every day. I'm haunting by what happened that night." He also wrote that "none of it was planned" and that "two people are in their graves long before their time because of what we did that night."

When Nugent was arrested on December 19, he also initially denied any involvement. When forensic evidence was presented to him - namely his DNA being found on the strainer area of a mop bucket in the flat - he made no comment reponses.

He then said that on the early morning in question he met Hegarty, who asked him to got for a dander with him. Nugent made the case that he didn't know where he was going, but he was drunk and high and went with Hegarty.

Nugent also told police that when they got to the flat, Hegarty smashed a window - but he then refused to say what happened next as he wasn't a tout, and his life wouldn't be worth living.

Defence barrister Frank O'Donoghoe QC, representing Hegarty, reiterated his client's claim that whilst their was an intention on his part to causing serious harm, there was no intention to kill.

Mr O'Donohgoe also said Hegarty suffered from a "mental disorder", and that the murder of a sibling "in the most appalling of circumstances" also had a negative impact on his mental health.

The barrister also spoke of the break-down in the relationship between Hegarty and Ms Smyth prior to the murders, and said Hegarty "had no money and was living a hand to mouth existence leading up to the days that the incident occurred."

Pointing out Hegarty's "propensity for jealous behaviour", Mr O'Donohgoe said there was "no getting away from the fact that he had been guilty in the past of domestic violence in relation to previous partners."

Gavan Duffy QC, representing Nugent, said that despite offending in his younger years his client went through a settled period and had two children. However, after the break-down of this relationship, Nugent reverted back to abusing drink and drugs which in turn led to an instructured lifestyle.

Mr Duffy also revealed that Nugent suffered from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of being the victim of several serious assaults and paramilitary beatings.

Regarding the offence, Mr Duffy pointed out that his client's plea was on the basis that he didn't participate in the assaults, that he didn't know Mr McGrillen and as there was no history between himself and Ms Smyth there was "an absence of intent to kill".

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