There was trouble in Coleraine this week when eleven loyalists involved in a sectarian murder in 2009 received very light jail terms or were released with non-custodial sentences.
The sectarian mob attack in which Catholic community worker and father of four Kevin McDaid died, and another man, Damien Fleming, was very seriously injured, outraged the community five years ago.
The trial of those involved concluded this week with a shock for the Catholic families. The sentences ranged from eight years for one gang member, to suspended (non-custodial) sentences for two of those involved. None were convicted of murder or manslaughter, but only of the lesser offences of GBH (causing Grievous Bodily Harm) or ABH (Actual Bodily Harm), and none were convicted of membership of a paramilitary organisation.
Summing up, the judge said there had been a “confrontation”. He said witnesses had described hearing shouts of “We’re the UDA” and threats to “kick some Fenian heads” from a group of around 40 men. He said McDaid had been attacked while on the ground and had sustained blows to the head and injuries while he was face down. But he claimed the 49-year-old had “a weak heart” and this had contributed to his death.
The court earlier heard that Mr Fleming suffered massive facial injuries including wounds that bled profusely, causing him to lose half of the blood in his body. He lay in a medically induced come for four weeks, but survived.
At the conclusion of the sentencing, loyalists in the public gallery loudly cheered the judge’s leniency, while Mr McDaid’s widow and family filed quietly out of the courtroom.
Later that day, loyalists taking part in a sectarian parade near the Catholic enclave where the murder took place loudly gloated at the outcome, and clashes broke out. Three of the accused are members of sectarian bands.
Up to 400 bandsmen and supporters marched provocatively in the Heights area and played sectarian tunes. One drummer banged the instrument so hard that he broke the skin.
East Derry SDLP assembly member John Dallat said bandsmen were “out to cause trouble and rub salt in the wounds of nationalists who felt the sentences were too lenient”.
The PSNI made six arrests.