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Man accused of beating Christopher Meli to death in west Belfast fails in new bid to be released from custody

By Alan Erwin

A man accused of beating a young father to death in west Belfast has failed in a new bid to be released from custody.

Even though Lee Smyth, 20, was previously granted High Court bail, a judge today refused to let him live with a relative regarded as unsuitable.

The decision means he remains behind bars on a charge of murdering Christopher Meli in December 2015.

Smyth, of Colinbrook Gardens in the Dunmurry area of the city, is one of three people accused of killing the 20-year-old.

He allegedly whistled for others to join in a group attack on the victim in the Twinbrook estate, prosecutors said.

Detectives believe up to 20 people were involved in a number of violent confrontations that led to the victim suffering fatal head injuries in the Doc's Lane area.

At previous hearings it was claimed that he was set upon by a large group of both males and females, and subjected to "a sustained, savage attack."

One line of enquiry is that the murder victim and his friends were targeted in retaliation for a clash outside a kebab shop on the Stewartstown Road earlier the same night.

Another group of teenagers came together to exact revenge for that fight in which in one of their number sustained a nose injury, it was alleged.

Mr Meli was said to have been located, knocked to the ground and then repeatedly punched and kicked about the head.

Smyth denies the charge against him and claims he acted in self-defence.

The accused went to police later that day to give an account of his alleged involvement in the wider incident.

He claimed to have exchanged blows with Mr Meli in a "fair fight" where both were on the ground as others set upon them, a judge was told.

In January this year Mr Justice Burgess ruled that Smyth could be released under strict bail terms.

Amid efforts to keep him away from the Meli family, they included an exclusion zone around parts of the Twinbrook and Poleglass areas.

His decision followed arguments that he had spent more than a year in custody and faces a further lengthy wait for any trial.

However, Smyth has remained in custody due to issues about the proposed bail address.

Defence lawyers returned to court today seeking a variation in the conditions that would enable him to live there with the occupant.

But the judge rejected claims that he would be able to provide the necessary care and control.

Refusing the application, Mr Justice Burgess said: "It's now a matter for Mr Smyth to perfect the terms of bail.

"If he can't, unfortunately I see no grounds for changing my opinion."

The victim's mother, Venessa Burke, was in court with relatives for the latest hearing. 

Walking out before the decision was reached, she shouted: "I wish my son had somewhere to go to today."

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