Northern Ireland

Meli accused must remain in custody

Christopher Meli was beaten to death in west Belfast last December Image copyright Family
Image caption Christopher Meli was beaten to death in west Belfast last December

One of the teenagers accused of beating a young father to death in west Belfast has been ordered to remain in custody.

A High Court judge rejected claims that Lee Smyth, of Colinbrook Gardens in Dunmurry, should be released because of delays in the police investigation.

Smyth is one of three teenagers charged with killing Christopher Meli, 20, who was beaten to death last December.

A witness has made a disputed claim that the 19-year-old whistled for others to join in the attack.

Image caption A High Court judge rejected claims that Lee Smyth should be released because of delays in the police investigation

Police believe up to 20 people were involved in a number of violent confrontations that led to Mr Meli suffering fatal head injuries at Doc's Lane in Twinbrook.

Prosecutors have alleged that he was set upon by a large group of both males and females, and subjected to "a sustained, savage attack".

One line of enquiry is that the murder 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 in one of their number sustaining a "busted nose", the court was told previously.

Mr Meli was said to have been located, knocked to the ground and then repeatedly punched and kicked about the head.

Smyth, who denies the charge against him, went to police later that day to give an account of his alleged involvement in the wider incident.

'Fair fight'

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 according to the prosecution, a witness alleged that Smyth whistled as a signal for others to join him.

It was claimed that he then started to assault Mr Meli on the ground, kicking him to the face and stomach, with another of those at the scene said to have remarked: "He's dying."

The murder victim's mother, Vanessa Burke, was present in court with other family members as Smyth mounted a fresh application for bail.

Defence counsel argued that a date for submitting a preliminary investigation file to the Director of Public Prosecution has been missed.

Raising further concerns about forensics, he predicted any trial may not get underway until next year.

However, a lawyer for the prosecution responded that police are expected to have the file ready by the middle of next month.

Further witnesses

She revealed that a major investigation team handling the case are also in the process of interviewing four more potential witnesses.

Refusing bail, Madam Justice McBride ruled: "The delay is not significant enough to amount to a material change of circumstances.

"It may be at a later date if there's ongoing delay."

More on this story