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Donach Rice given three-year jail term for Newcastle man Padraig Fox manslaughter

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Padraig Fox

Padraig Fox

Photopress Belfast

Padraig Fox

A 22-year-old who killed a vulnerable Northern Ireland man with an "unprovoked and unexpected blow" following a drink and drugs binge was handed a three-year prison sentence on Tuesday.

Telling Donach Rice that he displayed "a shocking indifference" to the plight of Padraig Fox in the aftermath of the killing, Mr Justice Colton noted that after administering the fatal blow, Rice created a "false self-defence scenario" then cashed in a betting slip for £7.60 which belonged to the deceased.

Rice, a father of two from Kilkeel Road in Annalong, was informed he will spend three years in prison followed by the same period on licence when he is released from jail, after he admitted the manslaughter of Mr Fox.

Senior investigation officer, Detective Inspector Michelle Griffin welcomed the sentence, saying that nobody should ever have to go through the torment Mr Fox's family were put through.

"His family have been left devastated and whilst I know nothing will ever ease the pain and loss Padraig’s death has caused, I hope the sentencing today will bring some kind of closure for them, ” she said.

The 29-year old victim - who had mental health and addiction issues - was killed in the kitchen of his neighbour's flat in December 2018.

Mr Justice Colton said Mr Fox's death has had "devastating consequences" for his family, and said he was a man who was "clearly loved by his close relatives, particularly because of his vulnerability."

His loved ones attended today's sentencing, and left court clutching a cushion bearing his face.

Mr Fox lived alone in a flat at Burrendale Road in Newcastle, and the day before he lost his life, he had been with neighbour Paul Magennis, who lived in the flat above, and cousins Donach and Nathan Rice (21).

Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard all four men spent Friday December 7, 2018 drinking and talking drugs including acid in Magennis's flat. This went on into the following morning, and some time around 8am and 9am, Mr Fox lost his life.

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Nathan Rice was in the flat when Padraig Fox was attacked

Nathan Rice was in the flat when Padraig Fox was attacked

Photopress Belfast

All three defendants were subsequently charged with perverting the course of justice, leaving police to piece together what occurred in the flat.

Mr Fox's body was discovered at 1.45pm on Saturday 8 by a man seeking 28-year old Magennis, and when police arrived at the scene they observed a lifeless body in the kitchen.

He was found lying on his back with a machete underneath his left hand, and his t-shirt pulled over his face with his chest exposed.

A post mortem was conducted the following day, with the cause of death attributed to blunt force trauma. He suffered a bleed to the brain and a fractured skull, with the pathologist concluding his ability to breathe whilst on the ground would have been compromised due to a broken nose and consequent bleeding into his airways.

Following the discovery, a solicitor for the Rice cousins contacted the PSNI on December 8 to say they had been in the flat with Mr Fox and they wanted to assist police.

Both Donach and 21-year old Nathan Rice, from Saul Street in Downpatrick, provided statements claiming they saw Magennis throw the fatal punch - a claim the cousins later admitted was untrue.

Following a detailed investigation, the true picture emerged of what occurred both before and after the fatal punch.

During the course of the Friday night and early Saturday morning, Mr Fox sustained a facial injury after he was assaulted in the flat. After that, at around 5am, he walked to the Slieve Donard with the Rices.

The two cousins broke into the hotel and stole three bottles of alcohol, and the trio returned to Magennis's flat where the drinking continued.

At around 8am, the Rices and Magennis went to Tesco where a bottle of vodka was purchased. A short time after they returned there was an altercation between Donach Rice and Mr Fox, when the deceased was punched once and fell.

Mr Fox showed no signs of life after this assault. Nathan Rice then left the flat, while Donach Rice and Magennis remained there for 13 minutes before leaving and involving themselves in further criminality.

They accosted an elderly man at an ATM on the Dundrum Road at 9.25am, while at 9.50am Donach Rice cashed in a betting slip for £7.60 that belonged to the deceased Mr Fox.

All three men were subsequently arrested and interviewed. Magennis was interviewed 12 times and claimed Donach Rice firstly assaulted Mr Fox causing an eye injury, and that the fatal punch was administered in a second assault by Rice after they got back from Tesco.

He also admitted staying behind after the fatal punch, and said he and Rice "sliced" themselves with the machete before the weapon was placed under Mr Fox's hand to make it look like self-defence.

Donach Rice was interviewed nine times, and admitted breaking into the Slieve Donard with cousin Nathan. Despite initial denials, he admitted punching Mr Fox in the face and subsequently later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other offences.

Nathan Rice admitted proving a false statement and said this was to protect his cousin. He also admitted breaking into the Slieve Donard, and said he left the flat in a panic after the fatal punch.

During Tuesday's sentencing, it was noted that all three men had criminal records. Also noted was the behaviour of the men after the killing.

Addressing Donach Rice, Mr Justice Colton said: "In the immediate aftermath of this assault, your first reaction was to seek to set up a false self-defence scenario. This took considerable effort on your part, including the infliction of a wound to your arm and the placing of the machete under the deceased's hand."

The Judge said that after taking into consideration Rice's "difficult and chaotic childhood", his expressions of remorse, his relative youth and his guilty plea, he was handing him a six-year sentence.

Magennis - who admitted two counts of perverting the course of justice, and assaulting the pensioner at the cash machine - was handed a two-and-a-half year sentence which will be divided equally between custody and licence.

Mr Justice Colton told Magennis he displayed a "callous disregard" for his neighbour's plight and said: "You made no effort to seek medical attention or assistance for him, but rather set about leaving a false trail with a view to protecting you and Mr Rice wrongly seeking to implicate Mr Fox in some wrongdoing."

Nathan Rice was handed a combination order consisting of 40 hours community service and a year's probation, after he admitted breaking into the Slieve Donard, and perverting the course of justice by falsley claiming Magennis dealt the fatal blow.

Described as a young man with a low IQ, ADHD and 'easily led by peers', the judge told him "it seems clear to me that your actions were motivated by a misguided loyalty to your cousin and desire to protect him".

Detective Inspector Griffin said that Mr Fox's "so called friends" walked out on him and left him to die alone.

“However, their cold, cowardly acts did not stop there. All three alleged that Padraig had attacked Magennis with a knife and Donach had been injured trying to intervene," she said.

“This was totally fabricated. Donach Rice and Magennis had actually cut themselves with a knife and Magennis placed it under Padraig’s hand to try and frame him.

“It also came to light that Donach Rice cashed in a betting slip belonging to Padraig which was removed from Padraig’s wallet after he died. How much was it worth? A paltry £7.60."

Belfast Telegraph