Four cleared of attack that left autistic man unconscious in street
Three men and a youth have been acquitted of involvement in a baseball bat and hatchet attack in the Tiger's Bay area of Belfast.
Amid a heavy police presence at the city's Crown Court, a jury returned unanimous not-guilty verdicts on charges arising from the assault.
The four males are all originally from, or have links to, the Tiger's Bay area.
They are 23-year old Benjamin Mark Hagan, from Moss Road in Lambeg, 37-year-old Alan George James McIlwaine, from Mackey Street in Belfast, David John Nixon (28), from Blenheim Drive in Newtownards, and a youth who cannot be identified because of his age.
Each of the four were accused of causing grievous bodily harm to the 22-year-old victim, who was attacked at around 10.45pm on June 19, 2015, as he walked along Mervue Street with friends.
Hagan was also charged with possessing a hatchet with intent, while Nixon and the youth were charged with possessing a baseball bat with intent.
The victim was beaten unconscious and the attack left him with a fractured kneecap, a broken arm, lacerations to his head that required 29 stitches and 11 staples and an eye injury that also required stitches.
During the trial, the man who was attacked, who has autism and ADHD, said he was sure that the four men in the dock were the ones who beat him. He also said the assault left him traumatised.
Each of the four men named by the victim denied involvement. Two of the accused gave evidence in court, while the other two chose not to.
Father-of-three Alan 'Bubble' McIlwaine said that after a day's drinking, he went to his mother's house, where he stayed for a few hours before getting a lift to his own house.
He denied being involved in the assault and denied kicking the victim in the face after he was brought to the ground.
After being asked why the injured man named him as one of his attackers, the youth said: "Mistaken identify is the only thing I can think of because I wasn't there."
The court also heard that a black Seat vehicle that the victim told police the gang were travelling in, and which was registered to Mr Hagan, was forensically tested, but there was no evidence to connect any of the four accused to the car.