Thursday 27 October 2016

Single punch trial: Man hit while out with girlfriend ended up on ventilator

Greg Harkin

Published 08/04/2016 | 10:37

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 sent home for the weekend.

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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 in the early hours of September 23, 2014.

The jury of nine women and three men hearing the case at Sligo Circuit Criminal Court were told today to return to hear the conclusion of the case next Tuesday.

Mr Azeez admitted in a garda interview throwing a punch at Mr Finnegan (25), on Castle Street, Sligo.

Garda town centre CCTV captured the incident.

In the footage played to the jury, Mr Finnegan appears to throw a punch at Mr Azeez, missing him.

A second later Mr Azeez appears to strike Mr Finnegan on the left hand-side of his face.

When interviewed by Gardaí on October 21, 2014 Mr Finnegan said he was “idiotic to have stayed there or started anything” adding that he should have walked away.

Mr Finnegan's statement was read out by prosecuting counsel Dara Foynes.

He had been drinking Buckfast with student friends at a house at The Mall in Sligo before going out around midnight.

He met his girlfriend Olga Reilly at Pure nightclub leaving around 2am.

Afterwards he remembered there were “males shouting something.”

“The next thing I remember was waking up in the Beaumont Hospital,” he said.

Under cross-examination by Kerida Naidoo SC, for Mr Azeez, Mr Finnegan said he was not a violent person and he was surprised to see his behaviour when he watched the incident on CCTV.

He said he hadn’t drunk Buckfast before.

His behaviour on the night wasn’t usual. Mr Finnegan said he did not believe he had started the row in the street.

“That wouldn’t be like me,” he said.

He said he was sorry for “dragging” his family "through this".

The court heard Mr Azeez had gone voluntarily to Sligo Garda Station on the same day of the incident to say he had been involved.

“I feel bad for hitting him that way and for putting him in hospital. I didn’t mean to hit him (Mr Finnegan) like that…. he kept coming at me,” said Mr Azeez in his garda interview played to the jury.

He said he and his friend, Hungarian student Adam Balogh (25), were walking home when Ms Reilly had appeared in front of them and accused them of saying something to her.

He said they hadn’t said anything and Ms Reilly was repeatedly asking them where they were from.

Mr Azeez said Mr Finnegan had thrown a punch and he had ducked and had hit him back on the shoulder.

He said he walked away but that Mr Finnegan had thrown another punch.

“I went down (ducked out of the way) I got up I hit him with my right and he went down. That’s it,” he said.

Medical reports read to the jury showed that Mr Finnegan had to be transferred from Sligo University Hospital to Mullingar for a brain scan because the CT scanner in Sligo wasn’t working.

The examination showed he had suffered fractures to his skull, left eye socket and left jaw.

He was later transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.

Three plates were inserted into his facial injuries.

Consultant Professor Leo Stassen said Mr Finnegan had suffered very significant and life threatening injuries.

By May 18 2015 Mr Finnegan had made a complete recovery and was not on any medication.

The jury hearing the case were told today to return to court next Tuesday for the resumption of the hearing when final submissions are made by defence and prosecuting counsels.

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