Belfast Telegraph

Christopher Meli death: Eight sentenced over killing of Belfast man

Christopher Meli's parents Vanessa and Christy at Laganside Court in Belfast, after the sentencing.
Christopher Meli's parents Vanessa and Christy at Laganside Court in Belfast, after the sentencing.
Christopher Meli's parents Vanessa and Christy Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Gary Lewis Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Ashleigh McDonald

Eight young people have been sentenced for offences linked to the death of west Belfast man Christopher Meli.

While two defendants were sent to jail, six others received sentences ranging from probation to community service.

Mr Meli was beaten by a crowd of up to 15 people in an area known as Doc’s Path in Twinbrook. Two of his friends were also attacked as part of a series of violent incidents in the area involving two groups of young people.

The father of one died at the scene, and a post mortem concluded that death was due to an upper airways obstruction and inhalation of blood caused by facial injuries as a result of blows to the head which caused bleeding in his nose and mouth.

Mr Meli’s family - who attended the sentence hearing wearing black hoodies bearing the 20-year old’s name and image - sat in the public gallery of Belfast Crown Court.

They heard Mr Justice Colton acknowledge their “anguish and distress” after reading their victim impact statements.

The judge said: “These statements convey the utter despair that Christopher’s death has caused the family.

“His death has impacted on every aspect of their lives and they will live with the grief and consequences of Christopher’s death for the rest of their lives.

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Gary Lewis Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

“These statements bring home to me the enormous and devastating impact Christopher’s death has caused to his family.”

Judge Colton added: “I am conscious that the evidence in this case was insufficient to establish a charge of murder against any of the defendants and this has come as a disappointment to them.

“At the end of the day, there is no sentence that I can impose that will cure the tragic loss suffered by Christopher’s family.”

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Christopher Meli's parents Vanessa and Christy Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Sentencing the eight defendants for their roles and levels of involvement in the attack on Mr Meli, and of further assaults on his two friends, Judge Colton described what occurred as “chaotic and fast moving.”

Mr Meli and his group were attacked in revenge for an earlier assault on defendant Daniel McGrath, who sustained a broken nose after he was punched and kicked in a kebab shop.

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Christopher Meli

Two of the eight defendants - Caolan Lavery (20) from Belfast Road in Glenavy and 22-year old Lee Smyth who is currently in HMP Maghaberry - both admitted a charge of manslaughter.

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Lee Smyth, one of two who admitted manslaughter in Mr Meli’s death in 2015

Smyth was handed a nine-year sentence by Mr Justice Colton, who said he had “no doubt” he played a “leading role” in the attack on Mr Meli.

Describing what happened as “gratuitous violence by punching and kicking a defenceless man whilst he was under the ground”, the Judge said Smyth also joined in the attacks on Mr Meli’s two friends.

Noting Smyth carried out a further attack as Mr Meli lay prone following the group attack, the Judge said he accepted Smyth did not intent to cause really serious harm, and that the remorse he has since expressed was genuine.

Smyth was handed a nine-year sentence which will be divided equally between custody and licence.

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Caolan Laverty

Caolan Laverty pleaded on the grounds he was a “secondary participant” in the joint enterprise but did not punch or kick Mr Meli in the incident giving rise to his death.

Telling Laverty his presence and conduct encouraged others to harm Mr Meli, the Judge told the father of one his conduct was “shameful” when he kicked Mr Meli on the side after the initial attack.

Mr Justice Colton revealed Laverty has “turned his life around” since the incident and noted his acknowledgement of the “severe impact” the fatal incident has had on the Meli family.

He was handed a five-year sentence and will serve two-and-a-half years in jail, followed by the same period on licence.

Stephen McCann (22) from Dundrinne Road in Castlewellan, admitted affray on the grounds he was part of the group that ran in the direction of Doc’s Path, but didn’t assault anyone. He was ordered to carry out 150 hours community service.

Aaron Stilges, from Laurelvale in Crumlin, admitted affray linked to the attacks on Mr Meli’s two friends, and to assaulting one of the men. The 22-year old - who has 25 criminal convictions - was placed on Probation for two years.

Gary Lewis, from Antrim Road in Belfast, also admitted affray in the fighting which led to the attacks on the two friends, and to assaulting one of them. The 21-year old was handed a combination order of 40 hours community service and two years Probation.

From Thornhill Crescent in Dunmurry, 21-year old Daniel McGrath admitted affray. He sustained an injury in an earlier incident, and was later involved in the fighting which led to an attack on the two friends. He was ordered to carry out 100 hours community service.

Daniel McManus, from Springbank Avenue in Belfast, also admitted affray on the grounds he was part of the larger group that initially chased Mr Meli’s smaller group. The 20-year old was “on the periphery of events” and was placed on Probation for a year.

The only female to be charged - 21-year old mother of two Shannon McIlwaine from Glenalina Crescent - admitted affray after accepting she was a member of the larger group which initially went to confront Mr Meli’s group. She was not involved in any violence and was given a conditional discharge.

While Smyth and Laverty were taken into custody, the remaining six were each told “you are free to go.”

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