Northern Ireland

Antrim man James Greer is jailed for iron bar attack

A man who battered another man about the head with an iron bar has been told he will spend at least eight and a half years in prison.

James Greer, 30, from Rathkyle in Antrim, was convicted of trying to murder 50-year-old Anthony McCrystal on 6 June, 2011.

A judge told Greer on Monday he was assessing him as "a dangerous criminal".

He said Greer was guilty of a "brutal and merciless" assault.

Judge Alastair Devlin told Greer that even when he had served a minimum of eight and half years in jail, it "would be a matter for the parole commissioners if and when he is safe to be released and under what licence conditions".

The court heard how Mr McCrystal was seen in "an agitated state" walking through the Doury Road housing estate in Ballymena, County Antrim.

An elderly woman gave him a cup of tea and tried to calm him down, but Mr McCrystal walked on to confront Greer with a metre-long metal bar.

Greer was struck once with the bar, but having taken it from Mr McCrystal, he launched what the judge described as "a brutal, shocking, despicable" attack, landing multiple blows on his unconscious victim's head, face and body.

Judge Devlin recalled how witnesses to the attack testified at Greer's trial that he hit his "motionless" victim between four and seven times while "he was lying supine on the ground".

"Witnesses told the court and jury that each blow was delivered by you with what was apparently full force," the judge said.

The attack was only stopped when a member of the public intervened and pushed Greer away. He ran from the scene, seeking refuge in a friend's house in Ballymena before getting a taxi back to Antrim.

'Intensive care'

The following day, police investigating the attack found him hiding in an attic and arrested him.

The court heard Mr McCrystal was taken to hospital where doctors found he had sustained devastating injuries which have left him needing "around the clock" care.

His injuries include multiple fractures to his skull and cheek bones, contusions and bleeding on his brain which caused a stroke, the loss of sight in his left eye, limited movement in his left arm and hand, and aphasia, which causes severe communication problems.

Having been put into a medically-induced coma, Mr McCrystal then spent several weeks in intensive care before being transferred to a neurological ward. In total, he spent four months in hospital.

Due to the severity and nature of his injuries, Mr McCrystal was unable to give evidence at the trial.

Judge Devlin said his life had been devastated with injuries which will impact upon him "for the rest of his life".

The judge said that although Greer had not brought the bar to the fight, and that there was an element of provocation, Greer's initial self defence went far and beyond anything which was acceptable.

He added that the nature of the attack was also an aggravating factor given that Greer continued to use the bar after his victim was unconscious and defenceless.

He also referred to Greer's criminal record of 90 previous convictions.

The judge told the court he believed an indeterminate sentence would be sufficient to protect the public and jailed Greer for at least eight and a half years.