Ruling is due this week

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A window cleaner “repeatedly stamped” on his victim’s head while he lay on the ground following an altercation, a court heard today (Friday).

Richard Hugh Jackie Dalzell (37), of Whinpark in Newtownards, pleaded guilty last month to the murder of 54-year-old Mark Lamont in Coleraine almost 17 months ago.

Dalzell is currently serving a mandatory life sentence and at Belfast Crown Court today (Friday), a tariff hearing was held to determine how long he would spend in prison before he would be eligible to apply for parole.

Prosecution counsel Ciaran Murphy QC told the court that at 1 am on September 26, 2016, police were called by the Ambulance Service to attend the scene at Ballycastle Road, Coleraine, after Mr Lamont was found ‘lying in blood’ on the ground.

The victim was first taken to the nearby Causeway Hospital in a critical condition before being transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. He never regained consciousness and died on October 11, 2016.

Detectives launched a murder investigation and during the course of their inquiries discovered that Dalzell and his partner Deborah Ramsey had been in The Forge Bar in Coleraine from 11.30 pm on September 25, 2016, and been “drinking since midday”.

Witnesses told police of a “bad atmosphere in the Forge Bar’’ that night and a number of arguments had taken place between Dalzell and Ms Ramsey and Mark Lamont and two of his friends, one of which had been in a previous relationship with Ms Ramsey.

Mr Murphy said the couple left the bar and went to her house on the Ballycastle Road. CCTV footage showed them arguing and Dalzell was seen to “kick a shop shutter”.

The court heard the couple were “engaging in sexual intercourse’’ in her home when three men walked in through an unlocked front door with “hoods up over their heads and their faces obscured’’. However, Ms Ramsey recognised two of them, including one who was her former boyfriend.

Following an altercation and a standoff in the property, the three men left only for Mark Lamont to return a short time and a “serious assault took place” outside in the street.

Ms Ramsey told police that she tried to intervene and “got between” Dalzell and Mr Lamont and shouted at the defendant to “stop’’. After kicking Mr Lamont with his right foot, Dalzell turned to Ms Ramsey and said: “This is your fault”.

A neighbour told police how he saw a “tall, well-built male...repeatedly stamping on a male lying on the ground”.

A second neighbour told detectives seeing the defendant “jumping up and down” on Mr Lamont’s head. She added: “He was putting a lot of effort into what he was doing”.

When Dalzell saw her on her phone to police, he shouted at her: “I’m in the UDA. You saw nothing.”

Mr Justice Colton heard that Dalzell got into his Audi A4 convertible and “fled the scene” and was later detected speeding along the Upper Newtownards Road in the early hours of September 26, 2016.

Police initially gave chase, said Mr Murphy, but “because of the high speed, the pursuit was stopped due to public safety”.

Later that day, Dalzell attended Coleraine police station where he was formally arrested. At police interview he told detectives that he was acting in self-defence, telling officers: “This was a fight that I was challenged to and I won. I was not going to let myself get hit. I got the better of him and he lost.”

Asked if he kicked Mr Lamont to the head, Dalzell replied: “I can’t remember if that happened or not”.

Said Mr Murphy: “This defendant says he got the better of Mr Lamont but his actions went well beyond what constituted self-defence.

“There can be absolutely no doubt that that the stamping of Mr Lamont to the head while lying on the ground had been to cause injury if not an intent to kill and there is a serious culpability for that action.”

A post-mortem examination carried out by Professor Jack Crane said that Mr Lamont died as a result of a “trauma injury to the brain with a depressed fracture of the skull”. He had also sustained a bleed to the brain, bruising under the scalp along with fractures to facial bones.

Professor Crane said the injuries were consistent with being caused by “stamping or kicking to the head while he lay on the ground”.

The court was told that a probation report found Dalzell “posed a significant risk of serious harm to the public in the future”.

The senior prosecutor said that victim impact reports from the deceased’s two sons, one aged 35 and the other 17, along with Mr Lamont’s partner who he had a child to, showed the “serious impact” the death had on them “now and forever effectively”.

Defence counsel Martin O’Rourke said Dalzell had “expressed his remorse and guilt” in both a medical report and a pre-sentence report.

He told Mr Justice Colton that the attack “was not pre-planned or premeditated....there was no intention to kill,” adding that as result of the attack Dalzell had been “diagnosed as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD).

Mr Justice Colton said he wanted to consider “a lot of material put before him” and would give his tariff ruling next Wednesday, April 18.