The family of Kevin McDaid has described a decision to drop murder charges against seven men accused of killing him as “an insult” .
The Catholic father-of-four was set upon by a loyalist gang near his home in the Heights estate in Coleraine, County Derry, in a row over flags two years ago. His friend, Damien Fleming, was left critically ill with head injuries.
Mr McDaid’s widow, Evelyn, said she had only been told that the charges were going to be reduced the evening before the men’s court appearance on Monday.
Twelve men have been charged in connection with the incident in which Mrs McDaid and a number of other people, including a pregnant neighbour, were also attacked.
The seven have been charged with manslaughter in relation to the Mr McDaid’s death.
Although not charged with murder, the five other accused had originally faced lesser charges including the attempted murder of Mr Fleming, affray and assault.
However, all accused will now be prosecuted only for manslaughter, attempted murder and affray.
The North’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) informed Ballymena Magistrates Court of the changes on Monday morning but the McDaid family said they were only told at 5pm on Sunday.
Mrs McDaid said the family has asked the Six-County attorney general to intervene.
“It’s very disappointing and hurtful. We want the charges brought back up to murder,” she said.
Mrs McDaid said she had recently become a grandmother and it hurt that her husband was not alive to meet his granddaughter.
Mr McDaid died close to his Somerset Drive home in May 2009. He and Mr Fleming were set upon by a gang who had entered the area while “celebrating” a success by Glasgow Rangers in winning the Scottish league title. The killing led to increased sectarian tension and many Catholic families, including the McDaids, were forced to moved away from Coleraine.
Sinn Fein deputy chairman of the Six-County justice committee Raymond McCartney said there was outrage at the prosecutors’ decision at what he said was a hate crime.
He said the decision would send out a message that sectarian attacks will not be pursued with the full rigour of the law.
“Reducing the charges to manslaughter will be perceived as a mechanism to ensure that the mandatory life sentence for murder is not available. The fear will be that this decision will result in inappropriately light sentences and another family fighting a lengthy campaign for justice for a loved one.
“It is ironic that this announcement coincided with the British governments insult in once more refusing the Finnucane family access to a full independent Inquiry into the murder of Human Rights Lawyer Pat Finucane.
“The PPS has a responsibility to now give the family a detailed account of how it reached this decision.”