Belfast Telegraph

Court hears west Belfast man Christopher Meli was kicked 'like a punchbag' by crowd during fatal beating

Christopher Meli
Christopher Meli

By Ashleigh McDonald

West Belfast man Christopher Meli was kicked "like a punchbag" around 50 times by a crowd and tried to cover himself with his arms during a fatal beating, a court heard yesterday.

The details surrounding the death of the 20-year-old father-of-one emerged at Belfast Crown Court yesterday, where eight young people appeared for offences arising from a number of violent incidents that occurred in the early hours of December 12, 2015.

Two men - Lee Smyth and Caolan Laverty - have admitted a charge of manslaughter, while others co-accused have pleaded guilty to assaulting two of Mr Meli's friends, and of fighting and causing an affray.

All eight defendants will be sentenced on a range of offences on January 10 next year.

During the complex hearing, Mr Meli's loved ones sat in the public gallery as they heard how he was beaten by a crowd of up to 15 people in an area known as Doc's Path in Twinbrook.

He died at the scene, and a post-mortem concluded that death was due to an upper airway obstruction and inhalation of blood caused by facial injuries as a result of blows to the head.

Prosecuting barrister Neil Connor QC set out the Crown's case, and said there were a number of altercations that night.

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Mr Meli had spent the evening of December 11 drinking with friends, and just after midnight the group of four went to get more drink.

They came across another two young men and a woman in the Doc's Path area, and a fight broke out but ended quickly.

A short time later, a second incident occurred inside a takeaway where the owner reported seeing "three males kicking a fourth male on the floor".

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

This male, the Crown say, was Daniel McGrath (21) and what happened next was "revenge for that attack". McGrath, from Thornhill Crescent in Dunmurry, contacted his friends, and as Mr Meli and his group returned from Laurel Glen onto Doc's Path, a crowd of between 15 to 20 young people came running at them.

The crowd included "all of the defendants" and was led by defendant Lee Smyth (22). Mr Meli was knocked to the ground and the crowd then surrounded him and repeatedly kicked him in the face and stomach. It is the Crown case that Laverty, from Belfast Road in Glenavy, kicked him once to the chest before leaving the scene.

Around the same time, two of Mr Meli's friends, Ryan Morris and Steven Woods, were chased and attacked.

At this point a 999 call was made for Mr Meli, and he was pronounced dead at 4.30am.

Laverty, Smyth and Stephen McCann (22), from Dundrinne Road in Castlewellan, all handed themselves into police on the afternoon of December 12.

Gary Lewis (21) from Antrim Road, Belfast; Shannon McIlwaine (21) from Glenalina Crescent in Belfast; and Daniel McManus (20) from Springbank Drive, Dunmurry also attended at a police station the same day, while Aaron Stilges (22) from Laurelvale in Crumlin and McGrath went to police on December 13.

Lewis, who has a history of mental health issues, was jailed for 18 months in March 2017 for causing the death of mother-of-three Valerie Armstrong. He crashed into her while driving a scrambler in July 2016.

All eight defendants were interviewed and McCann subsequently pleaded guilty to fighting and causing affray in the attack on Mr Meli, as did McIlwaine and McManus, while Aaron Stilges admitted being part of the affray and attack on Mr Meli's two friends. Defendants Laverty, Smyth and Stiles admitted attacking Mr Woods, while Smyth and Lewis admitted attacking Mr Morris.

Barristers for all eight defendants asked Mr Justice Colton to take into consideration the very young ages of all involved at the time. It also emerged that Lee Smyth has written a letter to the Meli family. Mr Justice Colton remanded Smyth back into custody; his seven co-accused were all released on bail.

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