Belfast Telegraph

Murder accused teen 'whistled for help during attack'

By Alan Erwin

One of the teenagers accused of savagely beating a young father to death in west Belfast whistled for others to join the attack, the High Court has heard.

A witness claimed Lee Smyth used the signal to gather a crowd during the fatal assault on 20-year-old Christopher Meli, prosecutors said.

Smyth (18), of Colinbrook Gardens in Dunmurry, is one of three teenagers charged with last month's murder. He was refused bail due to the risk of further offences being committed.

Detectives believe up to 20 people were involved in a number of violent confrontations that led to Mr Meli being killed in the Twinbrook area of the city.

A post-mortem examination confirmed he died of head injuries after being attacked at an area of grassland known as Doc's Lane in the early hours of December 12.

In court yesterday prosecution counsel said: "Early indications are that Christopher Meli was set upon by a large group of both male and female persons and subjected to a sustained, savage attack."

One line of inquiry is that the victim and his friends were targeted in retaliation for a clash outside a kebab shop on the Stewartstown Road earlier the same night.

Another group of teenagers came together to "exact revenge" for that fight, in which one of their number sustained a "busted nose", the court heard.

Mr Meli was said to have been knocked down and repeatedly punched and kicked about the head.

Smyth, who denies the charge, went to police later that day to give an account of his involvement in the wider incident. He claimed to have exchanged blows with Mr Meli in a "fair fight" where both were on the ground as others set upon them, a judge was told.

But the prosecutor said a witness gave a different version of events. Referring to those allegations, she said: "Lee Smyth was heard to whistle as a signal for others to join him. As he whistled more people came towards them from a different direction.

"The witness identified Lee Smyth starting to assault Mr Meli on the ground, kicking him to the face and stomach."

During the incident one of those at the scene was said to have remarked: "He's dying."

Christopher's mother Venessa Burke was in court with family members for the bail application.

After a number of emotional outbursts His Honour Judge Lynch warned he would clear the public gallery if there were any further disturbances.

At one point relatives reacted furiously when they heard Smyth told police Mr Meli had confronted him armed with a knife.

It was confirmed that police have no evidence that the dead man had a weapon. However, one of those with Mr Meli was said to have produced a knife in a bid to ward off the other group at a separate stage in the events.

Twelve people have been arrested and questioned so far, with murder charges also brought against two others aged 18 and 16.

Denying bail, Judge Lynch said: "There's a risk of the commission of further offences."

His refusal was greeted with cheers from Mr Meli's relatives.

Belfast Telegraph


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