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Former homeless man caught with knife in Belfast had it to 'kill rats while sleeping rough' court hears

By Alan Erwin

Published 01/07/2015

The accused was released on bail.
The accused was released on bail.

A former homeless man caught with a lock knife on the streets of Belfast claimed he had it to kill rats while sleeping rough, a court heard today.

Dermot McCloskey, 24, gouged at his own face with his nails when police confronted him in a city centre doorway about the blade, prosecutors said.

A judge was also told a large crowd of onlookers filmed the incident earlier this year.

McCloskey, now with an address at Churchill House in Belfast, was ordered to serve 12 months probation for offences of having a bladed article in a public place, disorderly behaviour, resisting police, and possession of a small quantity of diazepam.

The city's Magistrates' Court heard a PSNI patrol encountered him with a sleeping bag in a doorway at Donegall Place on April 23.

He claimed other officers had advised him he was allowed to have the knife because the blade was under three inches.

A prosecution lawyer set out how McCloskey had to be restrained as he began to self-harm.

"He started to gouge at his own face with his nails," she said.

"He was shouting and using abusive language, and a large crowd began to film the defendant."

McCloskey was arrested and taken into custody, where his alleged reasons for carrying the blade were revealed.

"He said he was carrying it to kill rats when he slept rough," the prosecutor added.

McCloskey's facial wounds were still clearly visible as he stood in the dock.

Defence counsel Conn O'Neill said his client had been homeless for nine years.

"He's very much alone," the barrister contended.

But Mr O'Neill stressed how he has now secured settled accommodation and a place on a work programme.

District Judge Peter King described the case as "very disturbing".

The 12-month probation order was imposed after McCloskey consented to its terms.

Judge King told him: "Hopefully it will keep you away from having to sleep in doorways and feeling the need to arm yourself with a lock knife."

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