Tyrella killing ‘self defence’, court hears

Tyrella killing ‘self defence’, court hears

20 January 2021

A MAN accused of killing his friend as a result of a ‘one-punch’ incident on Tyrella beach in 2019 claimed that he acted in self-defence, a jury has been told.

However, the punch thrown by Joseph Dorrian (23) which claimed the life of west Belfast man Darren O’Neill (22) was, according to a prosecuting barrister, “an entirely unnecessary, unjustified unlawful act” and it was a blow struck “not in self-defence but in anger”.

The case against Dorrian — who denies a charge of manslaughter — was opened last Wednesday at Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, and is expected to last for two weeks.

The hearing was told that the men travelled from Belfast to Tyrella in Dorrian’s father’s car, together with two female friends, on June 27, 2019.

Crown barrister, Gavan Duffy QC, said that after stopping at an off-licence in west Belfast, the four arrived at the beach around 5pm. On the journey, Mr O’Neill drank beer and told the girls he had taken a ‘Bud’ — a nickname for the prescribed painkiller Lyrica/Pregabalin.

When they arrived at Tyrella, Dorrian, from Lakeview in Crumlin, parked his father’s car and the men went into the water before returning to the car and playing music.

Witnesses described the group as being in good spirits. However, a member of the public called police at 7pm to register concern that four people were drinking and that one of them may drive the car. 

Mr Duffy told the jury it had never been suggested that Dorrian was “intoxicated to the point he was unable to drive the car”, but confirmed a concerned call was made to police.

At around 7pm, Mr O’Neill got into the car and started driving it around the beach. A witness described Mr O’Neill as “raking about in the car”, doing handbrake turns and driving at speed.

Whilst Mr O’Neill was doing this, a witness said Dorrian was “cracking up”, that he was annoyed and angry, and was heard saying he was going to hit Mr O’Neill when he came back.

Mr Duffy said it was the prosecution’s case that Mr O’Neill got out of the car and was approached by an angry Dorrian who slapped him.

He said Mr O’Neill hit him back, there was an angry exchange and one of their female friends tried to intervene but was pushed away by Mr O’Neill.

Mr Duffy said the men continued to argue and Mr O’Neill said to Dorrian: “Come on, hit me.” At that point Dorrian struck Mr O’Neill’s jaw with his right fist with some force.

Mr Duffy said the blow caused Mr O’Neill to fall on his backside, but after a few seconds he got back up. The two men then said they shouldn’t be fighting and hugged each other, but then Mr O’Neill collapsed.

Mr Duffy said Mr O’Neill’s colour changed, he was having difficulty breathing and it was clear he was in a “very bad way.”

Mr Duffy said that while waiting on an ambulance, CPR was performed on Mr O’Neill at the scene.

Whilst Dorrian was detained by police, Mr O’Neill was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and was taken to the Intensive Care Unit. Despite medical intervention, he passed away on June 29.

A post mortem, which was performed on July 1, concluded that the cause of death was the blow struck by Dorrian. 

Mr Duffy said that following his arrest, Dorrian was taken to Banbridge police station where he was interviewed four times. He denied he had anything to drink and declined to provide a sample for analysis.

He told police he was annoyed, but not angry at the manner in which Mr O’Neill was driving his father’s car on the beach.

Mr Duffy said Dorrian made the case that after Mr O’Neill got out of the car there was a confrontation and they were standing with foreheads touching. Mr O’Neill threw a punch which glanced off Dorrian’s shoulder and struck his jaw.

Mr Duffy said Dorrian said he “responded immediately” to this to protect himself as he feared he was going to be struck again. This response caused Mr O’Neill to fall backwards, with Dorrian saying that when Mr O’Neill got back up again he walked a short distance before collapsing.

Mr Duffy said that when it was put to Dorrian this was a punch administered after Mr O’Neill said “Come on, hit me” and was therefore not self-defence, the defendant said it was an “immediate reaction in self-defence”.

During the third day of the trial on Monday, a dog-walker told the jury that he performed CPR on Mr O’Neill after he collapsed.

The jury also heard evidence from the pathologist who carried out a post mortem on Mr O’Neill, and who said the blow which caused the fatal injury was “not just a simple straight-forward slap” but “a punch with some force behind it”.

A couple who came to Mr O’Neill’s aid gave evidence via videolink. They said they parked their van at around 7.30pm and were about to take their two dogs for a walk on the beach when they observed a blue jeep being driven in an erratic manner.

The man said Mr O’Neill was “trying to do handbrake turns at speed” and when the vehicle stopped he saw Dorrian approach the jeep, pull Mr O’Neill out by his T-shirt and shout at him.

The witness said he then saw Mr O’Neill hit Dorrian “a wee slap”, then saw the men “shouting back and forwards”. The dog-walker said he walked on towards the beach but then heard two thuds which made him turn around.

The man said he was aware Mr O’Neill had fallen and was down for a couple of seconds, “then he got back up again and sort of stumbled to the back of the car”.

“He was stumbling all over the place. Joseph [Dorrian] was at the back of the car, the two of them met, the two of them hugged and shortly after that he collapsed.”

The man said when it became apparent the situation was serious, he and his girlfriend went over to offer assistance. At this stage Mr O’Neill was lying on the ground on his back, and when asked if he checked his condition, the man said: “I didn’t really have any experience in that, but I couldn’t feel a heartbeat and I couldn’t feel him breathing on me.”

An ambulance was called and the man said that after being given instructions down the phone, he began performing CPR “straight away”. Another man at the scene took over until the ambulance arrived.

The man’s girlfriend also gave evidence and described Mr O’Neill and Dorrian rowing in the car park after the driving incident. She said: “Darren punched Joseph, I think he went to punch him in the face but he actually hit his chest.

“There was a bit of shouting and Darren started saying ‘I didn’t mean to hit you, come on hit me back, hit me back’.”

She also described Mr O’Neill as being “unsteady on his feet and stumbling about” after being punched, and that when Mr O’Neill collapsed Dorrian laid him on the ground.

The woman confirmed she called for an ambulance and remained with Mr O’Neill until it arrived.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Christopher Johnson, who carried out the post mortem, said Mr O’Neill sustained a fracture to a small bone in his neck.

Dr Johnson, who also appeared via a videolink, told the jury: “There must have been some element of force behind this punch”.

When asked if it was possible to determine just how much force was used, Dr Johnson replied: “It’s very difficult to give a precise definition as to the degree of force, but I would certainly say in this case there has been some element of force has been applied.

“What I would say is it’s not just a simple, straight-forward slap. It’s got to have been a punch with some force behind it.”

The trial continues.