Northern Ireland

Lee Smyth murder trial: Victim 'started fight'

Lee Smyth Image copyright PA
Image caption Lee Smyth died two years after he was assaulted

The key witness in the trial of two men accused of beating to death an Armagh man, has told Armagh Crown Court it was the victim who started the fight.

But Lindsey Bell, who was then the girlfriend of one of the defendants, Gareth McKinney, said what happened had become "more than a fight".

Lee Smyth never regained consciousness after the attack in Armagh in June 2010.

The other man charged with the murder is serving soldier Michael Wilson.

Mr Wilson, 23, of Marlacoo Road, Tandragee, County Armagh, is also accused of robbing Mr Smyth of a "simple, cheap" cigarette tin.

Mr McKinney, 24, with an address at Charles Park in Portadown, County Armagh, admits being present when Mr Smyth was attacked, but maintains he was trying, without success, to restrain Mr Wilson.

Heroin user

Lindsey Bell said that Mr Wilson, who is a soldier in the Royal Irish Regiment, had carried on attacking Mr Smyth after he had collapsed unconscious on the ground.

Mr Smyth remained in "virtually a vegetative state" in a nursing home for two years before dying after his life-support machine was switched off.

The court heard that Mr Smyth, who was 30 at the time, had been an injecting heroin user.

His former girlfriend gave evidence about how he had been involved in an argument at a party the evening before.

When they got home, somebody had thrown a garden ornament at their flat. It smashed off the wall.

She said Mr Smyth had been angry and had left the house intent on finding the people involved.

At one point, the police had found him involved in another dispute with a man and had to make him drop a stick he was brandishing before advising him to go home.

'Unrecognisable'

The officers said they had intended to speak to him again the next day.

However, a few hours later, the same officers had been called to a location nearby after an early morning dog walker found a man lying unconscious.

The officers said they had found Mr Smyth so covered in blood that he was "unrecognisable", but that they had realised from his clothing and a tattoo that this was the same man they had spoken to earlier.

Opening the prosecution case, a lawyer said: "This is a distressingly familiar story, young men emboldened by drink attack each other for some perceived slight, virtually nothing at all."

But he said this particular attack had been gratuitously violent. He said: "They attacked a man who was prone and defenceless."

The case continues.

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