Judge dismisses assault charge

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A judge has dismissed a charge of assault against a Ballyvoy man following an incident involving allegations of punches being thrown in front of “crying” children.

Alex McMullan claimed he had gone to his niece’s house at Blackpark Cottages, Ballyvoy, to deliver Christmas presents when he was punched several times by the accused, Gary Francis Butler (53), of Glenmakeeran Road.

In court, Mr Butler said he did punch Mr McMullan in the incident on the morning of December 21 last year but said he was acting in self-defence after Mr McMullan had swung punches at him.

On Friday September 9 the two men were present at Coleraine Magistrates Court where Mr Butler contested a common assault charge which was dismissed by District Judge Nigel Broderick who said essentially without any corroborating evidence it was a case of one man’s word against the other.

Mr McMullan told the court he visited his niece with gifts and Mr Butler, who was married to Mr McMullan’s sister, came into a room where Mr Butler’s grandchildren were present. Mr McMullan said Mr Butler enquired “Alright Alex?” and whilst sitting he replied: “I have nothing to say to you” and turned his head away as he didn’t want to speak to him because of an ongoing divorce case between Mr Butler and his sister.

Mr McMullan claimed he heard Mr Butler say: “You can have whatever you want” and as he turned around Mr Butler was standing over him and proceeded to punch him six or seven times on the head and face. “At the time it seemed as if it was never going to end, it was probably less than a minute. I was totally shocked, I couldn’t believe it was happening.” He said he put his arms out to protect himself but the punches continued and Mr Butler’s two grandchildren in the room were “screaming and crying”.

Mr McMullan alleged Mr Butler’s daughter came into the room and slapped her father and told him to get out. He alleged she said: “That’s me finished with you, you b--tard” and Mr Butler left.

Mr McMullan said he was going to phone the police as he had injuries to his eyes, head and mouth and his nose was bleeding. Defence barrister Francis Rafferty put it to Mr McMullan that he had moved towards Mr Butler “swinging punches at him” and Mr Butler had defended himself.

The barrister said other than the two men there was nobody else to testify as to what happened. Mr McMullan denied swinging punches.

Mr Butler then entered the witness box and said he visited his daughter and when he saw Mr McMullan he said hello to him and he claimed Mr McMullan replied: “Don’t speak to me, I want nothing to do with you” before getting up and starting “to launch punches at me”, hitting him in the face, mouth and shoulder, which left him with bruises.

Mr Butler said Mr McMullan was the aggressor and added: “I punched him back and hit him twice”. Mr Butler said he left and denied he was put out of the house by his daughter. A prosecutor put it to Mr Butler the reason he didn’t contact the police was because the incident didn’t happen the way he described it but Mr Butler insisted his actions were “purely self-defence”. Mr Butler added he “knew why it happened because Alex was cross” over the divorce but he said it was a “storm in a teacup” and in the circumstances it was not his style to contact the police. Mr Butler said he was disappointed by what had happened and felt the two men could have talked about any disagreement.

Judge Broderick said the prosecution case was based on the evidence of Mr McMullan and said Mr Butler’s evidence was consistent with his police interview. He said he was surprised Mr Butler had not reported the mater to the police if he was the victim.

The judge said Mr McMullan denied he had any ill-feeling towards Mr Butler but Judge Broderick said his view was there was a “degree of animosity” and that gave him reason to doubt the overall credibility of Mr McMullan’s evidence. He said proving a case beyond reasonable doubt was high and in the circumstances, and with the lack of any independent evidence, he could not be satisfied and he dismissed the charge against Mr Butler.