Family's anguish as student avoids prison for one-punch killing of Oisin in schoolyard
The family of Oisin McGrath told of their pain yesterday as a 20-year-old student received an 18-month suspended sentence for killing the Fermanagh schoolboy.
Francis McDermott, of Camphill Park, Newtownbutler, was a 17-year-old sixth former when he caused the unlawful death of the 13-year-old in February 2015.
Oisin, from Belcoo, died in hospital from a head injury after being struck by McDermott during a tussle over a football in the playground of St Michael's College in Enniskillen.
Sentencing him, Judge Stephen Fowler told McDermott that although his conviction might blight his life, it paled into insignificance compared with the loss suffered by the McGrath family.
He said: "It leaves the hearts of this family with a painful sense of loss, of a life on the threshold, a life showing great potential, all of which was cut short all too soon."
Judge Fowler said that he accepted McDermott had shown genuine remorse and regret, and that what happened was "not premeditated or planned".
"In my view this is one of those rare and wholly exceptional cases where a custodial sentence is not inevitable and I am persuaded that there are exceptional reasons, as I have already identified," he said.
McDermott was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for three years.
In a statement later, Oisin's parents Nigel and Sharon said no words could express the enormous pain they have suffered since his death.
They said: "After today, life goes on for everyone else. On that day in February 2015, Oisin's life was ended and our lives stood still, shattered forever.
"While no sentence will change that for us, today's sentence is not proportionate in any way to killing Oisin. Oisin paid the ultimate price with his life and we, without him, are left with our own life sentence. No words versed today will bring Oisin back or change the damage caused."
The McGrath family added: "For striking any person, and in particular to the back of the head, there must be consequences. In Oisin's case the blow was fatal - we plead with all young people to think before they act, one strike can kill, and sadly for Oisin and for us, it did."
Previously, the court heard that the cause of Oisin's death was a traumatic haemorrhage caused by blunt force trauma to the base or side of the neck.
It was caused when McDermott flailed out with his arm, hitting Oisin on the side of the head as he attempted to regain a football which was kicked out of the 'caged area' of the schoolyard.
At some stage McDermott grabbed Oisin by the lapel of his school coat, swinging him round, and at the same time his arm went up and he either punched or slapped him on the side of the neck, leaving him lying on the ground, dazed, "his eyes fixed and staring".
However, while the blow he struck was both "intentional and unlawful", and therefore manslaughter, it was accepted it was "delivered without malice, not motivated by animosity, nor severe".
In the police investigation that followed McDermott initially denied hitting young Oisin or even knowing him, but then told police the denials were made in a "panic", and while he accepted he had hit him with "minimal force", he was "very, very sorry and very guilty".
A defence lawyer described the case as "exceptional and peculiar" among the many one-punch cases in Northern Ireland.
McDermott, he said, was acutely aware, particularly at this time of the year, of the impact young Oisin's loss will have on the McGrath family.
After the case Detective Chief Inspector Gareth Talbot, from the PSNI's Serious Crime Branch, said his thoughts were with the McGrath family.
He said: "While the sentencing brings a close to the police investigation, it does not bring an end to the pain Oisin's family and friends are suffering.
"They continue to face life without Oisin and miss him daily as he was their beloved son, brother, grandson, nephew and cousin.
"They will now not see him finish his education or find a career, grow into a young man or know what his future may have held."
DCI Talbot added: "The events which took place at the school over two years ago show all too tragically what can happen when a person is struck. In this tragic case, one blow to Oisin's head/neck area was enough to kill him.
"I would like to remind people that one spur of the moment action, whether it's at a school or in any other setting, can have long-term and devastating consequences for all involved - the victim and also the perpetrator.
"I would urge people to think before they act, as one strike can kill."