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Philip Strickland murder: Farmer accused of killing Comber man 'had no gripe' with victim


A 56-year old farmer accused of murdering Comber man Philip Strickland today told a jury he had "no gripe" with the victim and didn't kill him.

Philip Strickland died on the outskirts of Comber on January 11, 2012.

The 37-year old was shot in the leg in a yard on the Ballyglighorn Road, bundled into the back of his own car and driven a short distance to the Ballydrain Road before being shot in the face at point blank range.

Standing trial at Belfast Crown Court for his murder are 56-year old Jimmy Seales from Ballykeel Road in Hillsborough and 26-year old Stephen Charles McCaughey from Shackleton Walk in Newtownards. They both deny murder and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life. 

Seales sons Jason and Ian Weir have already pleaded guilty to murder and earlier in the trial, Ian gave evidence placing his father at the scene of the murder, armed with a shotgun. Seales has consistently denied being present, saying that on the evening Mr Strickland was killed, he watched Emmerdale then went to bed.

Giving evidence at the trial, Seales became emotional and broke down several times as he recalled being beaten, urinated and spat on and left for dead in a cemetery in Ballygowan four months prior to the murder.

Seales told the court he received the beating in September 2011 because he had previously asked a local man to remove cannabis that he discovered was being grown in a shed on land he owned. The farmer said he was contacted by one of the men who subsequently attacked him, asking him to come to Ballygowan to look at some pigs.

Seales said that when he arrived, he was manhandled, stabbed in the mouth then brought to the ground where he was beaten with iron bars and a piece of wood. He said: "They beat my arms and legs. I remember the bones coming through my arms. I remember lying on the ground. I couldn't get up and my arms were like rubber. I couldn't move them or anything."

Saying he was "beaten stupid", Seales said he was urinated on, spat on and had a gun put to his head before being driven  and dumped in a nearby cemetery. He sustained multiple injuries in the assault, including fractures to both arms - one which required a skin graft - renal failure and soft tissue injuries. It is the defence's case that due to these injuries to his arms, Seales would have been unable to fire a shotgun.

Following the assault, graffiti began to appear in Comber which said 'Jimmy Seales, PSNI tout.' The graffiti was attributed to Mr Strickland, as were comments posted on Facebook about the attack on Seales.

Brian McCartney QC, who is representing Seales, asked his client if the graffiti annoyed or concerned him, to which the accused replied: "No...it wasn't true anyway so I wasn't worried about it." When asked about the comments on Facebook, Seales said he only found out about them via his sons Ian and Jason. He said he told them "not to bother about it, it was only a bit of nonsense" but that they were "upset about it".

When asked by Mr McCartney about Mr Strickland, Seales said: "I have known Philip from he was a child". When Mr McCartney said: "He was suspected of being responsible for the graffiti and Facebook comments. As a result of this, it has been suggested you wanted revenge against him." Seales replied: "No, that's not true."

Mr McCartney added: "It has also been suggested that he may have been one of the men who beat you up and tried to kill you." Seales said that if this was the case, he would have told the police.

Under cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Liam McCollum QC, Seales denied murdering Mr Strickland, saying he had "no gripe" with the murder victim. Seales also said that during his time on remand, he asked Ian and Jason if they had anything to do with the murder.

He told the court: "I asked them umpteen times and they said 'we were there'." He added: "When Ian pleaded guilty it was like hitting me on the back of the head with something."

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