Belfast Telegraph

PSNI sergeant to stand trial in case linked to one-punch death

By George Jackson

A detective sergeant in the PSNI based in Coleraine has failed in her legal challenge that she should not stand trial in a case involving a single-punch death.

The case relates to the death of James McDonagh who died after he was punched once to the head in an altercation outside the Elk Inn at Toome on January 9 of last year.

Cathy Thompson, 34, has been suspended from her duties as a detective sergeant since the incident took place.

She was charged with two offences of perverting the course of justice in relation to the police investigation into Mr McDonagh's death by sending two text messages to Ciara McCoy, the sister of Finbar McCoy Junior, who has been charged with the manslaughter of Mr McDonagh.

Last month at the Crown Court in Londonderry a barrister for Ms Thompson made a no bill application before Judge Philip Babington during which he stated there was insufficient evidence against the defendant to proceed with a trial on both charges.

In his reserved judgement on Thursday Judge Babington said while there was insufficient evidence in relation to one of the charges, there was more than sufficient evidence in relation to the second charge.

Judge Babington granted the no bill application in relation to a text message sent by the defendant to Ciara McCoy, with whom she was in a relationship at the time of Mr McDonagh's death.

He said the text message sent by the defendant which stated "tell him to behave and say nothing" did not contain enough evidence to proceed to a trial.

However Judge Babington said the second text message, which stated "Yeah don't have anything in the house u shouldn't have as they will land to arrest him. They will then search the whole house for clothing, XXXXX" contained, given the defendant's position as a detective sergeant and her obvious knowledge of police methodology and forensic matters, sufficient evidence to put before a jury.

Judge Babington said much of the background relating to the alleged offences was not in dispute.

"On the night of January 9 2016 a retirement dinner was being held for Finbar McCoy Senior at the Elk Inn which is situated just outside Toome. It seems that in the early hours of the following day at the Elk Inn there was a dispute which escalated into a fight between members of the McCoy family and members of the travelling community. It appears that a fight broke out and some hours following the fight a man called James McDonagh, who had received a head injury, sadly passed away.

"The defendant was present at the retirement dinner but was not present during the ensuing disturbance and fight. She is the girlfriend of the sister of Finbar McCoy Junior who has now been charged with the manslaughter of James McDonagh. His sister is Ciara McCoy. The defendant is a member of the PSNI having the rank of temporary detective sergeant at the time of this incident", Judge Babington said.

"Suffice to say I am satisfied that the actions  alleged by the defendant on both counts could potentially be matters which pervert the course of justice", he added.

Judge Babington said in his view there was more on sufficient evidence in relation to the text message sent by the defendant which stated "Yeah don't have anything in the house u shouldn't have as they will land to arrest him. They will then search the whole house for clothing, XXXXX".

However in relation to the second text message which stated "tell him to behave and say nothing", there was not sufficient evidence to allow this charge to go before a jury.

The case will be reviewed on October 19 and the defendant was released on continuing bail until her trial starts at the Crown Court in December.

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