Brave bystander rescues teen from vicious beating
She may be just 5ft 4ins tall, but Gemma Stewart is a giant in the eyes of a young schoolboy who she heroically rescued from a gang of violent thugs.
Brave Samaritan Gemma saved 15-year-old Andrew Clarke from serious injury after she jumped in and shielded him from the thugs who were punching and kicking him in the head during a vicious attack at a Belfast restaurant
Andrew's father Ian said he was in no doubt that the courageous actions of a stranger saved his son's life.
The teenager, from the Ballinderry area of Co Antrim, met with Gemma this week to thank her for helping him.
The terrifying ordeal began when Andrew called into the KFC restaurant in Donegall Place on March 4 to meet some friends after school.
A drunken youth approached Andrew and made a comment.
"I didn't hear what he said. He then asked me 'did I not speak English?'
"I just laughed because he seemed drunk. He then left but was muttering threats about coming back with mates," said Andrew.
The teenager said that a short time later the youth returned with up to six other youths and circled around him at the table.
Andrew, wearing his school uniform, was then dragged to the ground and viciously assaulted in front of a group of his frightened friends.
He was grabbed by the collar, pulled over a chair and onto the floor, then kicked in the head.
As the horrific assault continued the teenager managed to get himself onto a chair, but he was then punched on the left side of his head.
Stunned diners sat and watched in the packed restaurant as the thugs continued to kick and stamp on the schoolboy.
But brave bystander Gemma (28), from Rathcoole, took action and jumped in front of the teenager.
The petite office worker immediately intervened, shielding Andrew from the gang - some of whom were almost 6ft tall.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Gemma said she "didn't think twice" about standing up to the thugs.
"I just felt somebody had to do something or this wee boy was going to be beaten very badly," she said.
"One of the guy's faces was two inches from mine. I exchanged words with him.
"He was shouting 'who the f*** do you think you are? Let us at him'.
"I had to physically push two or three of them quite hard to get them away. They still wanted to attack Andrew.
"I just wanted to hold them back."
She somehow managed to move them outside.
"I just thought, if it had been someone in my family I would have wanted somebody to help."
The police were called and an investigation launched.
A 17-year-old male was later prosecuted.
Andrew was taken to hospital, but luckily he was not seriously injured.
Andrew's father said he and his wife Yvonne are indebted to Gemma for helping their son.
"I've watched the CCTV footage and Gemma just grabbed Andrew by the back of the shirt, pulled him behind her and then shouted and berated these people. She basically corralled them down the stairs and out of the restaurant.
The 47-year-old teacher added: "It was like a crowd of wolves gathering round a wounded deer.
"Had she not intervened I dread to think what would have happened. I have no doubt that had Gemma not stepped in, Andrew could have been killed."
Andrew said he will always be grateful to Gemma for her help.
"I was worried. Looking at her, she wasn't a big woman - she was quite short but she just came out and faced these so called 'big lads' in Belfast.
"I wondered if she was a bit over her head, but it seemed to do the job. And I'm pretty glad she showed up."
He added: "I'm okay now. I'm not going to let this affect me.
"As long as there are people like the ones who jumped me, there will need to be people like Gemma."