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Emotional scenes as Christopher Meli murder accused trio denied bail

By David Young, PA

Published 16/12/2015

Christopher Meli’s mother Vanessa Burke outside court in Lisburn yesterday
Christopher Meli’s mother Vanessa Burke outside court in Lisburn yesterday
Christopher Meli’s mother Vanessa Burke being comforted by friends and family
Christopher Meli was found dead on a pathway near Glasvey Close in west Belfast last weekend.

Three teenagers were yesterday remanded in custody accused of the murder of young father Christopher Meli.

There were emotional scenes in court and disturbances outside as relatives and friends of the murdered man and supporters of the accused clashed.

The 20-year-old was beaten to death in the Twinbrook area of west Belfast at the weekend.

Detectives believe up to 20 people were involved in a number of violent incidents that ended with the father-of-one's murder on grassland known as Doc's Lane.

Stephen McCann and Lee Smyth, both 18, and a 16-year-old boy who cannot be named for legal reasons, appeared before Lisburn Magistrates Court.

McCann, from Bearnagh Glen in west Belfast, and Smyth, from Colinbrook Gardens in Dunmurry, sat in the dock with their heads bowed as Mr Meli's parents watched from the front row of a packed public gallery. The 16-year-old sat at the front of the court outside the dock.

There were distressing scenes as the victim's parents, Christopher Meli snr and Vanessa Burke, were comforted by friends. At one point, Ms Burke cried out: "I'm never going to see my boy again."

Only McCann applied for bail, but district judge Rosemary Watters rejected the application and remanded all three in custody to appear before the court again via video-link at a later date.

Earlier, an investigating police officer told the judge he could connect all three to the murder charge. The detective added that when McCann presented himself at a police station in Belfast on Saturday, he told officers he had been "in that fight last night and was fighting with the wee man who was murdered".

McCann's solicitor told the court his client had intervened in a fight between Mr Meli (left) and a youth and, in his attempt to "innocently" break it up, he punched Mr Meli, although "not forcefully".

The lawyer said his client had also told police that someone in the company of Mr Meli had produced a knife and had tried to stab him.

In accounts given to detectives, McCann said one of his friends had attempted to fend off the individual with the knife and had sustained two stab wounds in the process.

The solicitor claimed his client had actually tried to go to the aid of the stricken Mr Meli, but had been pulled away.

Judge Watters refused bail citing police concerns that McCann might attempt to interfere with the investigation if freed.

A solicitor for Smyth said his client had told police he had been involved in an altercation with Mr Meli. The lawyer said Smyth claimed he had also been attacked with a knife on the night in question.

A legal representative for the unnamed youth insisted his client denied the offence of murder.

The police officer told the judge that the 16-year-old had admitted assaulting Mr Meli. His solicitor responded: "That's a long way from admitting the offence he is charged with today."

Two other males, aged 18 and 17, were last night being questioned by police over the murder.

Hundreds of people supported Mr Meli's family at a candlelit vigil on Monday evening.

Belfast Telegraph

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