Belfast Telegraph

'Insufficient evidence' to prosecute man accused of Anthony McErlain murder, judge rules

By John Cassidy

A senior judge ruled a Co Antrim man should not stand trial for the murder of a labourer in a seaside town almost two years ago.

John Keenan (51), of Broombeg view in Ballycastle, had been charged with the murder of Anthony McErlain on January 28, 2016.

Police said at the time that the 48-year-old, who was found in a flat in Broombeg view, had suffered a "traumatic and frightening death''.

Defence lawyers for John Keenan had a made a 'No Bill' application at Belfast Crown Court under the Grand Jury Abolition (Northern Ireland) Act 1969 saying he had no case to answer.

His lawyers argued that he was asleep during the time when Mr McErlain was assaulted and played no part in the attack on him.

However, the prosecution said that circumstantial evidence in the case, along with "lies'' Keenan told to police at interview, were sufficient grounds to put him on trial in front of a properly directed jury.

During a ruling on the application  on Friday, Mr Justice Colton said that after carefully considering submissions from both the defence and prosecution, he had decided that there was "insufficient evidence to put the defendant on trial''.

As a result, the judge said Keenan should now be released from custody at Maghaberry prison where he has been on remand following his arrest in England in May 2016 and flown back to Northern Ireland by the PSNI to be formally charged with Mr McErlain's murder.

At Friday's hearing, defence counsel John McCrudden QC for co-accused Christopher Keenan (35), also of Broombeg View, told the court that a consultant psychiatrist was still waiting on the defendant's "full medical notes and records'' which are held by the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

He said this was delaying the psychiatrist in finalising a report on Christopher Keenan's mental health.

Mr Justice Colton remarked: "It is very disappointing that he does not have all the notes and records.

"I direct that they be released immediately and if there is an issue over their release I will want an explanation from the relevant authority as to why it is not possible to produce his medical notes and records.''

Prosecution counsel Jackie Orr QC asked the court to fix a date for Christopher Keenan's arraignment hearing on the charge of murdering Mr McErlain while the psychiatrist's report was being finalised, adding that the deceased's family had been attending all the court hearings.

However, Mr McCrudden said he would prefer that the arraignment was postponed until the New Year to allow him to have a "full overview of the case'' before advising his client.

Mr Justice Colton said he would fix the arraignment hearing for January 12, 2018.

He told Ms Orr: "I want you to explain to the family that the report is required before the defendant is arraigned.

"It is in the interest of justice that this report is produced before the arraignment can proceed,'' added the judge.

Anthony McErlain, a father-of-two, was a labourer who had spent many years living over the border in the Republic of Ireland.

He had also worked on the building of the Channel Tunnel and had worked for a construction company in Dunloy, Co Antrim.

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