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Christopher Meli murder: 'Attacker whistled for others to join in savage beating,' court hears

Published 21/01/2016

Christopher Meli
Christopher Meli
Police officers made the arrests in west Belfast. Pic: Kevin Scott.

One of the teenagers accused of savagely beating a young father to death in west Belfast allegedly whistled for others to join the attack, the High Court heard today.

A witness claims Lee Smyth used the signal to gather a crowd during the fatal assault on 20-year-old Christopher Meli, prosecutors disclosed.

Smyth, 18, of Colinbrook Gardens in Dunmurry, is among three teenagers charged with last month's murder.

He was refused bail due to the risk of any further offences being committed.

Detectives believe up to 20 people were involved in a number of violent confrontations that led to Mr Meli being killed in the Twinbrook area of the city.

A post mortem has confirmed he died of head injuries after being attacked at an area of grassland known as Doc's Lane in the early hours of December 12.

In court today prosecution counsel said: "Early indications are that Christopher Meli was set upon by a large group of both male and female persons, and subjected to a sustained, savage attack."

One line of enquiry is that the murder victim and his friends were targeted in retaliation for a clash outside a kebab shop on the Stewartstown Road earlier the same night.

Another group of teenagers came together to "exact revenge" for that fight in which in one of their number sustaining a "busted nose", the court heard. 

Mr Meli was said to have been located, knocked to the ground and then repeatedly punched and kicked about the head.

Smyth, who denies the charge against him, went to police later that day to give an account of his alleged involvement in the wider incident.

He claimed to have exchanged blows with Mr Meli in a "fair fight" where both were on the ground as others set upon them, a judge was told.

But the prosecutor disclosed how a witness at the scene has provided a different version of events.

Referring to those allegations, she said: "Lee Smyth was heard to whistle as a signal for others to join him.

"As he whistled more people came towards them from a different direction."

She added: "The witness identified Lee Smyth starting to assault Mr Meli on the ground, kicking him to the face and stomach."

During the incident one of those at the scene was said to have remarked: "He's dying."

The murder victim's mother, Venessa Burke, was present in court with other family members for the bail application.

Following a number of emotional outbursts, His Honour Judge Lynch warned he would clear the public gallery if there were any further disturbances.

At one point relatives reacted furiously when they heard Smyth told police Mr Meli had confronted him armed with a knife.

One man shouted out: "You lying wee b******."

It was confirmed that police have absolutely no evidence to substantiate Smyth's claims that the dead man had any blade.

However, one of those with Mr Meli was said to have produced a knife in a bid to ward off the other group at a separate stage in the events.

Twelve people have been arrested and questioned so far, with murder charges also brought against two others aged 18 and 16.

The court was told two threat messages have been issued to those accused of involvement in the killing.

Defence counsel Tom McCreanor said Smyth had accepted being in a fight with Mr Meli and had also provided a list of other names to police.

Responding to the allegation about his client having whistled for others to join him, the barrister disputed the reliability of the witness account.

He contended: "There's no evidence that this man was leading a crowd."

Mr McCreanor claimed Smyth was on the ground along with Mr Meli when the group attack was carried out on them both.

Although the two co-accused are both on bail, Judge Lynch drew a distinction between their alleged roles.

He said: "There's evidence in relation to the witness that this applicant (Smyth)  was involved in a more deep way, that he whistled to a crowd to approach, which indicates a degree of organisation is relation to this matter."

Denying bail, he held: "There's a risk of the commission of further offences."

His refusal was greeted with cheers from Mr Meli's relatives. One of them said to the judge: "Thank you." 

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