Shocking video emerges of bar brawl hours before man died in police custody
A video has emerged of a north Belfast bar brawl at which a man was arrested just hours before he died in police custody.
The 26-year-old man received medical treatment at Musgrave Police Station after being apprehended outside The Chester pub on the Antrim Road at around 9.30pm on Sunday.
He passed away in the station's custody suite a short time later.
The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (PONI) is investigating the circumstances surrounding the sudden death.
It is understood that a bouncer was bottled in the face during a huge fight which broke out inside the bar before it spilled out into the car park.
"It was the worst fight I have ever seen in there - it spread over into all three bars and eventually outside," an eyewitness said.
Another witness said "it was like Beirut" for well over an hour outside the pub.
A video of the brawl shows a large crowd engaged in a confrontation outside the pub amid screaming and shouting.
It depicts several women being harassed and pushed around by a number of different men and shows the deceased forcefully push a woman to the ground before walking off.
The bar was closed for 30 minutes before punters resumed drinking, but police returned as staff were cleaning up at 12.30am and the bar was transformed into a crime scene.
It remained sealed off yesterday as forensic officers continued their investigation into the circumstances of the earlier disturbance.
It is understood that the deceased was thrown out of the nearby Bellevue Arms bar where he had been attending a christening party with friends from the Mount Vernon area.
The men left in a number of taxis at around 8pm after female staff complained about being verbally abused, but they clashed with a separate christening party on the next leg of their journey.
"It is a mystery as to how they ended up in The Chester because they never drink there," one regular said.
"A lot of the fighting was amongst themselves but they also clashed with another party."
"The guy who died fell going out the door but it wasn't a bad fall.
"He put his arms out to save himself - he didn't hit his head or anything."
The group of men were believed to be on their way to a city centre nightclub but stopped at The Chester bar which is just over two and a half miles from the Bellevue Arms.
The fight broke out when one of the revellers threw a pint glass across the bar.
Sinn Fein MLA and party policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly said he found the death of the man in custody "deeply concerning".
"I extend my sympathies and thoughts to his family at this time," he said.
"It is understood the young man died after midnight this morning following an incident on the Antrim Road where he was arrested.
"I spoke with senior police today and this death was automatically referred to the Police Ombudsman who is now in charge of an investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding this man's death in police custody."
A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman said investigators had been at Musgrave police station throughout the night and are continuing to gather information about the course of events leading up to the death.
"We will be speaking to all potential witnesses, gathering forensic evidence, reviewing CCTV footage and securing all relevant PSNI documentation," the spokesman added.
This newspaper understands that the doorman who was attacked in The Chester bar attended hospital after sustaining a deep cut close to his eye.
Last night he gave a statement to police and had his clothes taken for forensic examination.
The SDLP's Nichola Mallon said the man's death in police custody is "deeply concerning" and welcomed the Ombudsman investigation.
"Our thoughts are with this man's family and friends who are having to come to terms today with this horrendous news," the North Belfast Assemblywoman added.
A PSNI spokesperson said the office of the Police Ombudsman has been informed of the matter and has begun an investigation in line with normal procedure.
"As PONI are investigating, it would be inappropriate to comment any further," they added.
A post-mortem examination will be carried out to determine the exact cause of death.
Detective Inspector Stephen Harvey has appealed for anyone with information to contact detectives.
"A police investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disturbance is under way," he said.
"I am appealing for anyone with any information which could assist detectives with our enquiries or anyone who has mobile phone or dashcam footage of the incident to contact us."
Witnesses should contact police on 101 quoting reference number 1561 of 8/7/18.