Kevin McDaid death: Nine jailed over death of Catholic community worker battered in mob attack
Nine men have been jailed for their part in what a judge described as an ugly sectarian attack fuelled by alcohol that resulted in the death of a father-of-four.
Forty-nine-year-old Catholic community worker Kevin McDaid died after he was set upon outside his home in May 2009.
His friend Damien Fleming, who was also badly beaten during the attack in Coleraine, clung to life for four weeks afterwards and now requires constant supervision, the court was told.
Trouble flared following matches involving Rangers and Celtic when a group of up to 40 loyalists arrived in the Heights area of the town to remove tricolours which had been erected.
Nine men were handed sentences which ranged from eight-and-a-half years to six months for a series of offences.
They are Aaron Thomas Beech (28), from Hamilton Park, Ballymoney; Frank Simpson Daly (53), from Cloneen Drive, Ballymoney; John Freeman (24), from Tullans Park in Coleraine; Rodney Gardner (47), from Knocklynn Grange in Coleraine; James McAfee (33), from Lisnablagh Road in Coleraine; Ivan Beattie McDowell (47), also from Lisnablagh Road; John McGrath (55), from Hawthorn Place in Coleraine; Paul Andrew Newman (49), from Cambridge Park in Coleraine, and 34-year-old John Thompson from Main Street, Coleraine.
Their offences included grievous bodily harm, assault, intimidation and affray.
David Craig Cochrane (23), from Windyhall Park, Coleraine, and Christopher McDowell (38), from Willow Court, Coleraine, were given suspended sentences for affray, while Jonathan Stirling (25), from Elms Park, also in the town, was given probation for his conviction for threats to harm.
Mr McDaid and Mr Fleming were said to have been kicked when they were on the ground, and weapons were used during the vicious assault.
Mr McDaid had an underlying heart defect, and while the judge acknowledged he could have had a cardiac arrest at any time, he said the events of May 24 "undoubtedly brought on a heart attack".
All the men jailed will serve half of their term in custody, with the remaining sentence served on supervised licence when they are released from jail.
A lethal cocktail of sectarianism, football and drink
A deadly cocktail of sectarianism, alcohol and football tribalism ended in tragedy with the death of a father and another clinging to life.
More than five years after the attack in which Kevin McDaid sustained a fatal heart attack, his devastated family filed out of the courtroom yesterday to the triumphant cheers and jeers of the defendants’ supporters.
His widow Evelyn and their children left without commenting on the outcome.
There was a highly-charged and hostile atmosphere throughout the hearing to determine the punishment for those who formed part of the mob involved in violence on the day for which so many would pay a heavy price. As he began his sentencing remarks yesterday, Mr Justice Weatherup warned those packed into the public gallery that he would not tolerate a repeat of previous unruly scenes during earlier hearings.
Riot police stood inside the courtroom to ensure tensions did not spill over into yet more violence.
And outside, a large contingent of officers and Land Rovers surrounded Laganside Court.
The attack took place after disorder broke out following matches involving Glasgow football clubs Rangers and Celtic.
The court was told Rangers fans had gathered in a Coleraine bar for the game.
After the match word began to spread that Irish tricolours were being erected in the Heights area of the Co Londonderry town.
Loyalists began to arrange through text messages to go to the area.
The judge said: “They were going to take charge of these flags and remove them. There was bound to be trouble.
“When the trouble broke out it was of a vicious nature.”
A brawl ensued.
In the altercation Mr McDaid and Damien Fleming were knocked to the ground.
Police officers attempted to intervene as blows rained down on the stricken men.
Mr McDaid would die a short time later.
He sustained a heart attack, but there was no proof those involved were responsible for his death. He was known to have had a weak heart.
The judge said while the events of that day “undoubtedly brought on a heart attack” it may have occurred “at another time in different circumstances”.
The judge said the incident came at a time of huge sectarian tension in the town.
“I am conscious of the sensitivities and tensions that existed at that time in Coleraine and undoubtedly still exist as a result of these actions,” he said.
“There are obviously differences between families of defendants and victims and those differences, I understand, have carried into the court.”
Handing down immediate prison sentences to nine men, Mr Justice Weatherup said the violence flared as a result of a deadly mix of sectarianism, alcohol and football loyalties.
While football is a sport adored by millions, it can also breed deep tribalism, the judge said. The Old Firm games just prior to the violence stoked those emotions.
Three others convicted in connection with the incident left the court with their loved ones minutes after cheers had greeted their non-custodial sentences.
Most of those sent to jail are fathers — their families, too, paying the price for what happened on May 24, 2009.
“These events are a tragedy for everyone, and each family feels its own tragedy,” the judge added.