Brutally beaten and left fighting for his life... but brave Scott Vineer defies the odds to walk proud mum down the aisle on her wedding day
Today is a day Helen-Louise Vineer thought she would never see.
Her 20-year-old son, Scott, will walk her down the aisle as 'best man' on her wedding day.
Three years ago she was told Scott was not going to survive after he was viciously attacked on his way home from college on September 6, 2012.
His body was dumped in the grounds of a disused furniture showroom close to the Lagan towpath in Lisburn and lay undiscovered for 30 hours. He was eventually found by a police dog handler, but his injuries were so severe he could only be identified by the bracelets he was wearing.
Scott, who has autism, was in a coma for three months, only returning home six months after the attack.
Yesterday, infectious roars of laughter escaped from the Vineer household as Scott and his mother teased each other about his hair or her choice of football club.
A row of wedding day greeting cards decorated a shelf in the family living room, close to smiling photographs of Scott and his three brothers.
Scott rolled his eyes and laughed when his mum mentioned how handsome he is going to look in his suit.
The laughter in the house stopped and Helen-Louise's face darkened as she recalled the day her "gentle giant" went missing.
"I will never forget that day. He had gone to college (the South Eastern Regional College in Lisburn) but after 3pm that day he just disappeared. He was found at 9pm the following night," Helen-Louise said.
"I really started to worry when he didn't come home. We just knew something was wrong. We started phoning around but nobody knew where he was. Then we called the police. They got the helicopter out, the dogs out and were looking all over the place and checking CCTV to see if they could find him.
"It was just dreadful. We were on autopilot really."
Helen-Louise reached out and stroked the side of Scott's hair as she revealed how two police officers arrived at her home to tell her somebody had been found but the facial injuries were so severe they could not identify him.
"We had given the police a photograph of Scott. They turned up here around 10pm on the Friday night. They came in with some bracelets that Scott wore and asked if we recognised them because they had found somebody but they weren't sure if it was him or not because the facial injuries were so bad they couldn't recognise him," she said.
"We realised it was him from the bracelets. They wouldn't tell us if he was alive. They took us in the back of the Jeep to the Royal. I didn't know what to expect. We were taken up to intensive care. We were sat in a room, not knowing if he was alive or dead," Helen-Louise added.
"A doctor came in and said his injuries were very severe and he probably wouldn't survive. He then led us into the treatment room were Scott was on a trolley. He didn't look like Scott at all.
"He had tape over his eyes, his face was twice the size, he had marks all over his neck. I couldn't stop crying, I was so upset and so angry that somebody could do this.
"We could see trainer marks across his face. He had ligature marks across his neck where they had tried to hang him or strangle him."
After 48 hours, Helen-Louise was advised that Scott would live, but would most likely be in a permanent vegetative state.
"That was another shock we had to deal with. He was in a coma for three months and on a ventilator because he couldn't breath on his own.
"His neck had been twisted so he had to have a neck brace screwed to his head for several weeks to try to straighten it," his mother said.
Despite the poor odds, Scott began to show signs of improvement and by December 2012 his family felt more optimistic about his recovery.
"I remember his first words. He had just started coming out of the coma and he said, 'I want a drink'. They were the best words I had heard in months. He finally came home six months later. That was a very good day," Helen-Louise said.
As she kept a six-month vigil by her son's bedside, police launched a major investigation into the attack. The family had tipped them off about a man, Ryan Craig, from Ashmount Gardens in south-east Lisburn, who had bullied Scott while at school.
Craig was arrested and charged with attempted murder. He implicated two other men in the brutal attack, but there was not enough evidence to convict them.
On the day of his trial in June this year Craig, who is now 20, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of grievous bodily harm with intent. He was due to be sentenced yesterday, but the hearing was adjourned for pre-sentence reports. He remains out on bail.
"Ryan Craig and the two others used large pieces of skirting board to hit Scott with. Ryan Craig went through Scott's pockets to throw his phone away so he couldn't ring anybody. To me he wanted him to die. Hopefully the judge will impose a very high jail sentence on him for what he did," Helen-Louise said.
"Scott has been left with a life sentence. He can't go out anywhere on his own in case they (Craig, or his other attackers) see him. We don't know what they would do to him.
"He will be on crutches indefinitely. He had a fractured skull, bleeding to the right hand side of the brain, bruising to the left side of the brain.
"His short-term memory is non-existent. His balance has been affected, so has his concentration and his speech is slurred. He also gets very tired very quickly. He has a tremor in his left hand which means he can't do things like butter his bread or write as he is left handed. But he is very determined. He doesn't let things get him down. He even went back and finished his college course.
"It means so much to me that he is well enough to be best man at our wedding. Three years ago we were told he wouldn't survive. And now look at him."
Scott said: "I just get on with life. You pick yourself up and get on with it."
"I like making people laugh. Are you on the lookout for a toy-boy?" he asked me.
And the house erupts with laughter once more.
Brutally beaten and left fighting for his life... but brave Scott defies the odds to walk proud mum down the aisle on her wedding day