'Sweeney shook me just like rag doll'
Millionaire developer Seymour Sweeney - whose Giant's Causeway visitor plan erupted in controversy - has been given a suspended prison sentence for shaking a man who was walking on his land "like a rag doll".
The property tycoon was also fined £500 after a magistrate convicted him of common assault in Coleraine yesterday.
The court heard that Sweeney (56) of Ardihannon House, Runkerry, confronted swimming coach James Cunning and his partner Catherine Loughrey and accused them of trespassing on his land near the Causeway in July, 2006.
Mr Cunning told the court he had walked on to the land to look at a property they believed was on sale.
He claimed Mr Sweeney sped up to the couple in his Range Rover, narrowly missing Ms Loughrey, and subjected them to a volley of abusive language.
"He was just shouting and swearing and going into hysterics," he said.
After this exchange, Mr Cunning recalled how the developer had pushed him across the bonnet of his Range Rover and assaulted him.
"Mr Sweeney grabbed me by the neck with his two hands and shook me like a rag doll."
This version of events was supported by Ms Loughrey.
"I was in such a state of shock I nearly fainted," she said.
Mr Sweeney, however, said he had driven to the estate after residents had raised serious concerns about two strangers who were walking in and around the entrance to private apartments on the estate.
Sweeney said the couple had ignored repeated requests to leave before he even arrived, after driving from his nearby office, and they still refused to go when he told them.
"I didn't know what they were doing there, whether they were casing the joint or planning to come back and take some items of value," he said.
He also refuted the claim he had used abusive language.
"There was no ranting and raving, I'm simply not that kind of person," he said.
Sweeney conceded he placed his hands on Mr Cunning but said the contact was minimal and he believed he was within his rights as a landowner protecting his property.
However, Magistrate Rosie Waters did not accept his claim that when he physically confronted Mr Canning he only briefly placed his hands on his shoulders and politely told him to leave.
"He couldn't give a satisfactory explanation as to what he had intended by laying his hands on him," she told the court.
Sweeney's barrister Jim Gallagher indicated the defendant was likely to appeal the verdict.
Sweeney's application to build a privately owned visitors' centre at the Giant's Causeway was rejected by Environment minister Arlene Foster earlier this year.
The plan caused a political furore after it emerged that North Antrim Assembly member Ian Paisley junior had lobbied strongly for the project to be given the go-ahead, even taking the case to then Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Mr Sweeney is a member of the DUP and had links with him on other property developments.
Although both denied any wrongdoing, the continued media speculation surrounding Paisley's links with Sweeney contributed to his decision to resign as Junior Minister.