Teen soccer star jailed as one punch left man with brain damage
An upcoming teenage football star has been ordered to spend six months in custody after he pleaded guilty to a one-punch GBH assault.
In addition to the term of detention, Judge Patrick Lynch QC ordered 18-year-old Jack Smith to spend a further 18 months in supervised licence conditions.
Last Wednesday the Craigavon Crown Court judge heard that when NI under-19 and Linfield reserves midfielder Smith punched Conor Foat in the head on August 31, 2013, his victim fell backwards "immediately unconscious" and without trying to save himself, smacked his head on the ground outside Lisburn True Blues Club.
Prosecuting lawyer Ian Tannahill told the court that the fall had caused a traumatic brain injury which scans revealed to be a bilateral brain haemorrhage, the effects of which are still present and ongoing more than two years since the incident.
Earlier this year Smith, who was just 16 at the time and is from Ballymacoss Court in Lisburn, pleaded guilty to a single charge of causing grievous bodily harm.
Mr Tannahill said that while the club had strong associations with Linfield FC and was used by band members, it was a cross-community club and had been booked by a Catholic family for the party.
Invitations to the party had been issued on social media, the court heard, and it transpired that a number of bandsmen had arrived at the club and a group from west Belfast had congregated in the car park at Sackville Street in Lisburn.
Mr Foat had been invited to join the birthday celebrations but bouncers would not let him in. The lawyer said police in riot gear arrived to keep the two crowds apart and it was during this episode that a policewoman witnessed Smith punching the injured party once in the face.
Mr Tannahill told the court that despite the fact there were two factions squaring up to each other in Sackville Street that night, the police did not view the incident as sectarian as Smith had been "in the mixed group with the birthday party".
Reinforcing there was no sectarian element to the assault, defence QC Eugene Grant revealed that Smith was one of eight children and had two Catholic siblings.
He said Smith knew his victim through mutual friends and maintained that the assault happened when Smith tried to intervene in a fight between Mr Foat and another man.
Mr Grant highlighted that Smith was extremely remorseful and had told an interviewing probation officer: "I know that I should not have done it. It has shown me what one punch can do."
As well as the detention and licence terms, Judge Lynch ordered Smith to pay a £25 offenders' levy.