Northern Ireland

Stephen McAree jailed for Belfast pub toilet attacks

Belfast Crown Court
Image caption The case was heard at Belfast Crown Court

A Belfast man who attacked and robbed two elderly men in the toilets of pubs in the city has been given a four-and-a-half year prison sentence.

Both victims were assaulted and had their wallets stolen after they were targeted by drug addict Stephen McAree.

One suffered two broken ribs, while the other received staples on a head wound.

The 45-year old, from Thorndale Avenue, was jailed in 2008 on a charge of manslaughter for a similar incident.

McAree was given a seven-year sentence after he targeted a 67-year old in a street robbery in the middle of Belfast in April 2006.

The victim died of a heart attack just hours after he was admitted to hospital for injuries he suffered in the robbery.

A prosecutor told Belfast Crown Court that McAree had pleaded guilty to two recent robberies that were carried out in the toilets of two city centre bars.

The first victim, a 67-year old man, was attacked and robbed of a wallet containing £80 on 30 September, 2013.

When the man went to use the toilet, he was grabbed and pushed against the wall and towards the urinals by McAree. The victim recalls hearing a thud, then "everything went blank".

He was found lying against the door of the toilet and regained consciousness in an ambulance. His injuries included two fractured ribs and cuts to his forehead and lip.

The prosecutor told the court that CCTV captured McAree following the older man into the toilets and returning on his own.

As he left the bar, McAree told a member of staff there was a man in the toilets being sick, with the prosecutor saying it was "fair to say he was alerting bar staff to the fact this man was injured".

Staples to head wound

Around six weeks later, on 7 November, McAree struck again and this time his target was a 70-year old who had just finished having lunch with his son and who used the toilet before leaving.

The prosecutor said the pensioner remembered seeing something coming towards the left side of his face, and that he was struck and fell to the ground. He also recalls saying "you have got my wallet".

In this incident, the elderly victim sustained bruising to his back and a wound to his head that required five staples. The wallet that was stolen contained no money, but was of sentimental value to its owner.

The prosecutor told the judge that while the crimes were both planned and pre-meditated, they were also opportunistic as McAree "sits in a pub and sees a suitable victim".

The prosecutor also spoke of McAree's previous convictions, which included the seven-year sentence for "this exact type of offending" that resulted in a man's death.

The judge ordered McAree to serve a four-and-a-half year sentence - half of which will be served in custody with the remaining half of the sentence spent on supervised licence when he is released from prison.