Sunday 4 December 2016

Single punch trial: Man accused of assaulting student 'acted in self-defence', jury told

Greg Harkin

Published 12/04/2016 | 17:03

Picture: Google Maps
Picture: Google Maps

A JURY hearing the case against man accused of assaulting a student in a single punch attack has been told he acted in self-defence in a ‘single second’ after twice walking away from a row.

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Barber shop owner Ali Azeez, (23), from Ard Cairn, Sligo, has pleaded not guilty to assault causing harm and assault causing serious harm to Co Cavan student Stephen Finnegan (25) in the early hours of September 23, 2014 in Sligo.

The jury has watched Garda CCTV footage which appears to show Mr Finnegan throwing a punch at Mr Azeez which the Iraqi-born defendant managed to avoid.

The footage also appeared to show Mr Azeez responding with a punch and Mr Finnegan could be seen falling to the ground.

During the trial at Sligo Ciruit Criminal Court the jury was told the Cavan man was knocked unconscious as he hit the ground and had suffered life-threatening and life-changing injuries.

The altercation followed a row which began when Mr Finnegan’s girlfriend Olga Reilly, a 23-year-old IT Sligo drama student, accused Mr Azeez and his friend, Hungarian student Adam Balogh, (25), of calling her a “f***ing horse b***h’.

Both men have denied saying anything to her, alleging the row escalated when they refused to tell Ms Reilly, from Abbeylara, Co Longford, where they were from.

Today defence counsel Kerida Naidoo told the jury of nine women and three men: “It is not contested that Mr Azeez threw the punch which caused those injuries but he was acting in self-defence.”

Mr Naidoo, SC, said most cases in the courts, like this case, involved spending days examining incidents which lasted a few minutes.

He said the prosecution had argued that Mr Azeez had intended to cause serious harm to Mr Finnegan when he threw the punch or he was reckless as to whether he intended the injury.

Referring to the CCTV footage, the defence counsel said on the night of the incident Mr Azeez “didn’t have a pause button to work out what he was going to do next” after Mr Finnegan attempted to punch the defendant.

He said Mr Finnegan had technically assaulted Mr Azeez on three occasions and Mr Azeez had walked away twice.

Mr Naidoo said in two minutes of CCTV footage “the critical period of time is just one second”.

He said until that point his client had in fact “done everything possible to avoid hurting Mr Finnegan”.

He urged the jury to return verdicts of ‘not guilty’ on both counts as Mr Azeez had acted in self-defence and had neither intended to cause the injuries nor had he been reckless.

Earlier Dara Foynes, prosecuting counsel for the DPP, told the jury that the head injury suffered by Mr Finnegan when he hit the ground after the punch was thrown accounted for the first charge of a Section 4 assault causing serious harm because it led to a life-threatening injury.

The second less serious charge, a Section 3 assault causing harm, related to all the injuries suffered including eye-socket and jaw fractures received by Mr Finnegan in the same punch.

She said Mr Azeez was either reckless in causing serious harm or intended to cause serious harm.

Ms Foynes said there was ample evidence to convict on both charges.

Judge John Aylmer has begun his charge to the jury.

They have been sent home for the evening and he will continue to address them tomorrow.

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