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Judge warns of devastating consequences of 'one-punch' attacks

By Ashleigh McDonald

A Crown Court judge spoke of the potentially devastating consequences of "reckless drunken behaviour" following a 'one punch' incident that left a young man with a brain injury.

The injured party had been out celebrating his A Level results in the centre of Belfast last June when he was punched by Holywood man Benedict John Lowry.

After falling and striking his head on the cobbles, the 18-year old was rushed to the Mater Hospital. He sustained brain injuries in the incident, was transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital and continues to receive medical treatment.

During Thursday's sentencing, Judge Smyth said similar incidents have resulted in one person dying and another charged with manslaughter.

Lowry, from Bangor Road in Holywood, admitted causing grievous bodily harm to the other man as a result of the early morning incident on June 23, 2016.

The 20-year old was handed a combination order of 12 months probation and 80 hours community service after being told it was accepted his behaviour was "totally out of character" and that his remorse was geniune.

Prior to passing sentence, Judge Smyth was informed the incident occurred after two groups of friends clashed in a nightclub on Dunbar Link.

This initial altercation didn't involve either Lowry or the injured party - but trouble flared again when the two groups left the club around the same time and ended up on the street.

Prosecuting barrister Peter Magill said that around 2.30am "words were exchanged between members of each party" which was caught on CCTV. Mr Magill said this led to Lowry and the injured party facing each other and arguing.

The CCTV captures a third party coming between the two men - but not the punch. An eye witness reported seeing the injured party backing off and walking down the street. At this point, Lowry took off his top and approached the other man "in an aggressive fashion."

The witness also saw Lowry striking the other man once with his fist on the side of his face, when the the injured man had his hands down.

Mr Magill said: "All the indications are that the blow may have caused him to lose consciousness immediately. He made no attempt to block his fall, which resulted from the blow. He fell to the cobbles, and the other side of his head hit the street."

Belfast Crown Court heard no further blows were inflicted.

Police arrived at the scene and while the injured man was rushed to hospital, Lowry was arrested and immediately accepted responsibility. When he was shown CCTV footage, he appeared "somewhat surprised by his own aggressive behaviour."

Regarding the injured man, Mr Magill said: "He was in a bad way - so much so that it was found he was not able to get up and walk about, or attempt to talk until about seven days after the incident."

He continues to be affected by the brain injury he sustained, is still receiving treatment and while he is "steadily getting better", it is not yet known whether he will make a full recovery.

Defence barrister Kelly Doherty told the court Lowry was "truly sorry" for the injury he caused and also the difficulties faced by the injured man's family, adding the remorse her client has expressed with genuine.

Pointing out that from the outset Lowry admitted what he had done, Ms Doherty revealed that when asked by police during interview about how he felt, Lowry replied: "I am so guilt-ridden ... I am so sorry for the injury."

He also said: "It is my fault this has happened", as well as wishing the man he injured a "speedy recovery."

Regarding Lowry, Ms Doherty described him as a "young man who has never lifted his hand in violence against anyone", adding that on the night in question he had no idea of the gravity of the injury caused.

The barrister told Judge Smyth that Lowry "has not taken this matter lightly" and has sought counselling as a result of the "profound impact" it has had on him, and the guilt he feels.

Ms Doherty concluded by saying: "A combination of recklessness and high levels of alcohol has resulted in this young man in the court, and the impact on the injured party and his family."

Speaking of the "enormous repercussions" the incident has had on the injured man, Judge Smyth said this incident should act as a "stark reminder" of the consequences of "reckless drunken behaviour."

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