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Harry Holland's family appalled to discover killer Stephen McKee may soon be back on streets

Outrage as murderer of much-loved greengrocer now preparing for jail release

By Deborah McAleese

Published 08/09/2016

Harry Holland's widow Pauline with daughters Gail and Sarah
Harry Holland's widow Pauline with daughters Gail and Sarah
Murder victim Harry Holland
His killer Stephen McKee (left) and Patrick Crossan

The family of a much-loved Belfast greengrocer who was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver nine years ago have been left distraught at the news his killer could soon be back walking the streets.

Harry Holland's family have been advised by the Probation Board that his murderer, Stephen McKee, is preparing for his release from jail - despite a judge warning him he might never be released.

McKee - who sent a chilling text saying: "I just killed some man LOL" minutes after he stabbed Mr Holland - was jailed for a minimum of 12 years for the brutal attack in September 2007.

However, the 25-year-old is now eligible to begin a phased return to the community he once terrorised, as part of a pre-release scheme. The scheme is aimed at preparing life prisoners for full release from jail.

Mr Holland's daughter Sarah said the revelation that McKee will soon be a free man has left her family reliving the horror of the night her 65-year-old father was killed.

McKee was just 16 when he, his 15-year-old sister Niamh and their friend Patrick Crossan attacked Mr Holland as he was getting out of his van near his home in the Norfolk Drive area of west Belfast in September 2007.

Mr Holland, a popular, family-orientated businessman, had tried to reason with the drink and drug-fuelled youths, telling them: "I'm an old age pensioner, I'm too old for this, we don't want any hassle, calm down".

But as he tried to get away from them they attacked him and McKee stabbed him in the head with a screwdriver.

The father-of-four was left to die on the street outside his home.

Sarah, who lives in Dublin, recalled the moment she heard her father had been attacked.

"That night, my mother rang me. I lived in Dublin with my partner and our one-year-old baby. My mother was incoherent, crying and sobbing down the phone ... she told me my Dad had been stabbed, and that he wouldn't make it. I dressed myself and the baby as calmly as I could, trying to stop the ball of panic and nausea in my stomach from turning into a scream," Sarah wrote on a blog.

"I made it to the Royal Victoria Hospital, and was met by my family. My mother was white faced, ashen, couldn't speak ... I went into the intensive care unit and saw my aunt Mary, shocked.

"There was a pool of blood and brain fluid on the floor and my strong (daddy), hooked up to tubes and ventilators with a patch over his eye where it had been removed during surgery. He was fitting and shaking, and I knew he could never come back.

"I felt in that moment as though I had stepped into an alternate reality. I could never have imagined such brutality, even through all the years of the Troubles and the terrible things that happened, nothing could have prepared me for this. My Dad was a gentle giant, a rock, our anchor. In the days, weeks and months that followed, my mother found herself crying every time a key went into the front door and she realised afresh that it would never be him again."

Sarah said the family was advised two weeks ago by the Probation Service that McKee was entering his pre-tariff period.

During the trio's court hearing in 2009 Patrick Crossan was sentenced to four years for attempted affray and having an offensive weapon. He has been in and out of prison since his release several years ago for his part in Mr Holland's murder. Niamh McKee escaped prison. She was placed on probation for two years.

"Neither Stephen or Niamh McKee or any member of their family has ever expressed any remorse for the brutality they inflicted on my (daddy), and the pain they caused us. They have never even acknowledged that they were wrong," said Sarah.

She added: "Stephen will start to have supervised, then unaccompanied visits back into the community. He will eventually be allowed out, on licence. He will be 28-years-old, free to live his life.

"Meanwhile, two of my three sisters have moved out of West Belfast completely to avoid the McKees. One sister was jeered at by Niamh and her mother in the local shopping centre, one had to face seeing one of the brothers outside her daughter's school gates every morning, and recently saw him again at the top of her street in her rural Co Antrim village, had to listen to stories of Crossan's ongoing criminal escapades and rumours of drug abuse and violent altercations. Life goes on as normal for these people. For us, nothing will ever be the same again."

She continued: "We all find ourselves reliving that night. We have missed my Dad every day since his death, and there have been so many situations where I needed his advice and couldn't get it. More grandchildren born, including the first boy."

Mr Holland's brother Tommy told the Belfast Telegraph the whole family feel let down by the justice system. "Harry's family were not expecting this at all. It has brought it all back for everyone. It is like groundhog day. I remember that night going up to the hospital to see Harry as though it was yesterday.

"We were unhappy with the sentences the court imposed in the first place, but now this. The judge said he would serve at least 12 years. The family believed that meant a full 12 years behind bars.

"Now they are going to have to prepare themselves for seeing the man who murdered their father out on the streets. It just isn't right. That is not justice."

At the time of sentencing in 2009 Judge Mr Justice Weir told McKee that his "wicked crime" in killing the "well-known and much-loved" Mr Holland had left his family "shattered".

He told McKee he would receive no remission on the 12-year term which is the absolute minimum he would spend behind bars, and that it would be for the parole commissioners board to decide "if and when" he would be released.

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