A top hurler and his dad who carried out an assault in their home village claimed they had been “effectively terrorised” with the final straw being when their vehicle tyres were slashed, a court heard on Monday.
Liam Watson (35) - who is one of County Antrim’s greatest ever hurlers - and his dad Patrick Watson (57), both of of Scally Park, Loughgiel, appeared at Coleraine Magistrates Court.
Liam Watson, a window cleaner, is a former Antrim county hurler who once won the All-Ireland club title with Loughgiel.
He scored three goals and seven points when Loughgiel beat Coolderry 4-13 to 0-17 in the 2012 All-Ireland Club Final.
Liam Watson had initially been charged with using a hurling stick as an offensive weapon with intent to commit grievous bodily harm: one charge of common assault against a man and two counts of criminal damage to a bedroom window and a summer seat.
Patrick Watson initially faced two charges - assault occasioning actual bodily harm on the same man and possession of an offensive weapon, a hurling stick, with intent to commit grievous bodily harm.
Previously the Watsons had entered not guilty pleas and the case was set for a contest.
However, on Monday a prosecutor said she was offering no evidence in respect of the offensive weapon charges faced by both and no evidence in respect of the charge of criminal damage to a summer seat which Liam Watson was facing.
Instead their defence barristers entered guilty pleas to the remaining matters - common assault and one charge of criminal damage for Liam Watson.
Patrick Watson admitted assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
The prosecutor said just after 10pm on November 7 last year police received a report that Liam and Patrick Watson arrived at an address in Loughgiel “with a hurley stick” and were being “loud, aggressive and abusive”.
She added: “The injured party said he was punched in the face by Liam Watson and hit on the elbow with a hurley stick by Patrick Watson”.
The court was told the incident happened in a garden during which time a window was broken by Liam Watson.
Police attended and arrested the Watsons who made no comment during their first interviews but in the second interview Liam Watson admitted breaking the window but denied the other offences.
Defence lawyer for Liam Watson, Aaron Thompson, said there was “clearly a background that was perhaps not fully brought to light”.
He said the “altercation” took place in a garden.
Mr Thompson said Liam Watson had been out the preceding week and there had been an encounter when a knife was “brandished” at him.
Mr Thompson said there was another incident when tyres were “slashed” on vehicles belonging to both Watsons and they had gone to challenge those who they “had little doubt” were involved.
“There was bad blood here,” added Mr Thompson.
He said his client injured himself saying he punched a window causing a severe cut to his hand and Mr Thompson said Liam Watson also suffered a “significant gash” to his nose during a “melee” in the garden.
He said the common assault caused by his client involved a bruise on the face.
Mr Thompson added that although his client had not arrived “on a flight of fancy” it was an “appalling act” which should never have happened.
The barrister said Watson is a very successful hurling player which gives him the opportunity to travel “and that could be taken away from him if he crosses the custody threshold”.
Patrick Watson’s defence barrister Neil Moore said it was highly unusual to find a 57-year-old father and grandfather acting in the way he did “but he found himself in a situation that he, wife and children have been essentially terrorised”.
Mr Moore said there had been incidents and reports to police when the Watsons were “victims” but there had been no prosecutions.
The barrister said Liam Watson was “particularly aggrieved” about the tyre slashing and went to a house and was then followed by his mother and father.
“Patrick Watson goes down to protect his family. He is not a violent man. This was a gentleman whose temperament was pushed to the very edge by the actions of others”.
Mr Moore said Patrick Watson, a former bricklayer, suffered a heart attack at a hurling match two years ago while watching his son play and “with his health he is the last man to put himself in a situation of aggression”.
Mr Moore said his client caused a minor injury which required stitches.
The court heard there had been no further incidents.
District Judge Liam McNally said it seemed the “serious assault” arose out of tyres being slashed but he told the Watsons: “It was unlawful of you to take the law into your own hands”.
He said Liam Watson clearly had “a fair amount of alcohol” but said his “culpability was somewhat less” as he fined him £500 on the assault matter and gave him a two year conditional discharge for the criminal damage and ordered him to pay £195 compensation for the window.
Patrick Watson received a four months jail term, suspended for two years.