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Ulster soldier died following brutal barracks beating at the hands of a comrade, court told


Geoffrey McNeill died at his base

Geoffrey McNeill died at his base

Geoffrey McNeill died at his base

A Northern Ireland soldier was brutally and violently murdered by his comrade back at barracks in a possible revenge attack after an earlier punch-up, a jury has been told.

At the start of his murder trial, prosecutors alleged Lance Corporal Richard Farrell, a serving soldier with The Royal Irish Regiment, "inflicted heavy blows" to fellow unit mate Corporal Geoffrey McNeill, at their base in Shropshire in March this year.

Christopher Hotten QC, prosecuting, said it was the Crown's case 23-year-old Farrell "violently and brutally attacked" the victim, landing blows to his victim's "head, stomach and genitals".

Mr Hotten said DNA evidence recovered from the lance corporal's top – including a possible blood stain – and shoes matched that of McNeill's, while there were three-and-a-half hours where Farrell's movements could not be accounted for.

He added 32-year-old Cpl McNeill had been killed by a "significant force" applied to his neck, breaking three bones, in an attack carried out between 4am and 6am on Saturday, March 8, this year.

The jury at Birmingham Crown Court was also told Farrell went alone to McNeill's room at about 9.15am later that morning, and apparently then finding him dead, raised the alarm.

Setting out the prosecution case to the trial jury of four women and eight men yesterday at Birmingham Crown Court, Mr Hotten said: "We say Cpl McNeill was murdered.

"He was attacked and his attacker caused his injuries unlawfully – there was no lawful excuse for the attack or the injuries inflicted."

Cpl McNeill, who was born in Ballymoney, was found dead in his room at Tern Hill's Clive Barracks, which is where the Crown says the crime took place.

Mr Hotten said there was "no history of ill-feeling or animosity" between the two men, who served within different companies in the Army unit, based at the time at the Shropshire barracks.

The jury heard how the previous evening on Friday, March 7, both men had separately been drinking before heading out to the nearby town of Market Drayton.

Mr Hotten described an incident in the town's Clive and Coffyne pub, where an "annoyed" Mr Farrell complained some soldiers were "acting like maggots".

Later that night, as CCTV from inside the nearby Sandbank Vaults pub showed, Cpl McNeill floored Farrell with a right hook, cutting his own knuckle and the young lance corporal's lip in the process.

Witnesses later told how McNeill had claimed the younger man was "trapping off" before he landed the punch.

Farrell would also later tell colleagues he had been "gobbing off" to the corporal, said Mr Hotten.

The prosecutor said that punch "could provide an explanation for a later attack carried out by Mr Farrell, as revenge for what had happened".

Farrell's movements could not be accounted for between his arrival back at base, and 6.30am, when he was discovered asleep on the floor of the guard room.

The last time McNeill was seen, he was sitting outside the accommodation block housing his third-floor room on the base just after returning to the barracks.

Mr Hotten said Farrell awoke in the base's guard room, then went back to his room to shower, washing his clothes at the barracks' laundry.

He asked one soldier "where's McNasty's room?" – in reference to Cpl McNeill, saying he couldn't remember anything, and wanted to apologise added the prosecutor.

Farrell got to Cpl McNeill's room at about 9.15am and said he found the other man lying on the floor in just his underpants.

"According to Farrell he made vigorous attempts at resuscitation, and that would have led to a significant transfer of DNA," said Mr Hotten.

Farrell, wearing a smart dark suit and tie and sporting close-cropped dark hair, listened intently from the court dock as the Crown Prosecution Service set out its case.

Proceedings were adjourned for the day but the trial, expected to last four weeks, continues.

Belfast Telegraph