How this smirking bully-boy destroyed a young soldier's promising career in a frenzy of violence
Having carved out a reputation as a distinguished soldier, Alexander Dowie returned from serving his country in war-torn Afghanistan to spend Christmas with his family.
But having dedicated his life to the forces, Alexander has been medically discharged from the career he adored as a result of a vicious assault in his hometown which has left him with permanent brain injuries.
The life he had aspired to since he was a young boy was robbed from him by a renowned thug, on bail and with a previous history of violent attacks including, it was revealed in court, the multiple stabbing of another innocent man.
Cruelly, as the life-changing attack occurred while he was off-duty, Alexander – a father of a young child – does not qualify for an Army pension.
Due to the round-the-clock medical attention he required, Alexander missed the birth of his child. Every day tasks such as driving a car have been taken from him also.
The post traumatic stress he struggles to deal with on a daily basis is not the result of his experiences on the battlefield, but the remnants of a night-out with his mates.
Melvyn Bamber was yesterday sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
However, he will be free to apply for parole mid-way through that term.
An hour before the sentence was announced Alexander's mother, partner and other family members gathered in the court.
They did not want to comment publicly on his or their ordeal in the wake of the attack, the ferocity of which sent shockwaves throughout the Co Antrim town at the time.
Abiding by their wishes, I made to leave, but then Alexander's mother stopped me and reached for her mobile phone.
The image on the phone screen was one no mother should ever be confronted with – her son in a hospital bed, clutching to life.
"You wouldn't even know who that is; that's what he did," she said.
Having enjoyed Christmas with his loved ones, the 25-year-old Royal Irish Regiment soldier was making his way home from a night out on December 27, 2011, when he stopped off at a filling station in the centre of Ballymena, Co Antrim.
There he was to come into contact with Melvyn Bamber, a well-known bully-boy figure in the town who was on police bail for an assault just one month previously.
An altercation ensued between Bamber and the young soldier, with a member of staff in the filling station telling how Alexander was struck so hard he was knocked unconscious.
With his victim lying completely vulnerable and unable to defend himself Bamber proceeded to kick and stamp on his head, kneeling to lift Alexander's head off the ground before punching him.
Bamber, who admitted to bingeing on alcohol and drugs around the time of the brutal attack, then fled the scene, leaving Alexander fighting for life.
He spent several weeks in a coma such was the devastating extent of his injuries which included a fractured skull, and a fracture to his nose and cheekbone.
Having studied CCTV and taken witness statements, police quickly identified Bamber as the attacker.
He told them he could not remember anything about the night, adding that he "could not do that to a mate".
During the trial, a prosecuting lawyer said Bamber may have launched the assault as he was jealous of his former girlfriend's friendship with Alexander.
His defence told the court Bamber had approached his doctor in the weeks leading up to the attack in what was described as "cries for help".
He admitted to drinking around four litres of vodka per week at that time and was consuming illegal drugs regularly.
Bamber had pointed the finger of blame at drink following previous violent attacks he had launched on others.
Remarkably, the same filling station was the scene of one such incident.
Yesterday Antrim Crown Court was told that in 2006 he had used a small knife to stab another man multiple times.
The victim's injuries included punctured lungs and liver damage.
Antrim Crown Court was told he was jailed for grievous bodily harm with intent in 2007 following the previous attack at the filling station.
Released the following year, he was convicted of assault in 2010 following an incident in July of 2009, yesterday's court was told.
In November 2011, just one month before he attacked Alexander, Bamber was convicted of three counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
He was bailed pending investigations and ultimately convicted in April 2012.
While on bail he was to change the life of a former friend forever.
Bamber, through his legal representatives, claimed he was remorseful following what he admitted was a shockingly violent and merciless attack.
The court was told he has sought help for his addiction issues and is working towards qualifications while behind bars.
When he has served his sentence and emerges from prison he will still be a young man.
For his victim, however, the consequences will last a lifetime.