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Christopher Meli death: Mum furious as six of eight accused avoid prison

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Parents Vanessa Burke and Christopher Meli Snr

Parents Vanessa Burke and Christopher Meli Snr

Victim Christopher Meli

Victim Christopher Meli

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Parents Vanessa Burke and Christopher Meli Snr

The heartbroken mother of a young west Belfast man has said she is "disgusted" after six of the eight people accused of involvement in his death walked free from court.

Christopher Meli (20) died as the result of injuries sustained in the attack, carried out by a gang of up to 15 youths in Twinbrook in the early hours of December 12, 2015.

Vanessa Burke and other relatives wore sweatshirts sporting a 'Justice for Christopher Meli' slogan and images of the father-of-one at Laganside Crown Court yesterday.

They watched impassively from the gallery as the eight were sentenced.

Emotions were tempered by a heavy police presence in the courtroom and Ms Burke, alongside Christopher's father Christopher Meli Snr, remained unmoved as the defendants were escorted from the dock one by one afterwards.

Caolan Lavery (20) from Belfast Road in Glenavy and Lee Smyth (22), currently in Maghaberry, admitted a charge of manslaughter and were jailed.

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The other six, who were convicted of lesser offences, avoided prison, receiving sentences ranging from a conditional discharge to probation and community service.

Fourteen PSNI officers lined the gates as the six who avoided prison left the courthouse.

Afterwards members of the Meli family spoke of their anger.

"Look at them," shouted Ms Burke, in reference to the six.

"Those are the ones you want to be filming. Look at them hiding their faces."

Half-an-hour later Mr Meli's parents returned to express their anger at the sentences.

"What am I supposed to say after that?" Ms Burke said.

"It was a disgrace. The one who got nine years, we can take that.

"Another one got five, but for the rest, community service? No, that's not good enough.

"We will be appealing it. There's a lot more that should have happened in that courtroom today."

Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, co-operation with police and remorse, as well as aggravating factors such as intent and excessive violence.

One of the accused, Smyth, had written a letter to Mr Meli's parents expressing his regret over what happened.

In his sentencing remarks Mr Justice Colton accepted that the remorse shown by all those involved was genuine - but this was dismissed by Christopher's parents.

"It took four years for him to write that letter," said Mr Meli.

"We don't want his letter. We don't believe what was in it. He was guided by his solicitor to write that.

"I don't believe any of them were in any way remorseful."

Ms Burke also said she was shocked that two of the defendants who had walked free from court returned to the public gallery to sit with them.

"Two of them were let go, walked out of court then came into the gallery and sat down beside us. That's not remorse. That's pure and utter disrespect.

"We're not happy with the justice system and the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) knows that.

"I have to appeal the sentences. Every single one of them knows what happened that night.

"I'll never stop fighting for Christopher."

Ms Burke said the death of Christopher will have a long-lasting effect on her family.

"The last four years have been absolutely awful," she said.

"My 12-year-old son is in counselling. My grandson is never going to know his daddy. But we heard the judge tell us how they (the defendants) all have children now, how they're respectable, going for jobs.

"My Christopher didn't get that chance. Not once was my grandson's name mentioned in that court today, yet they all got to speak about their children. I'm not happy about this at all."

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