Thursday 23 January 2020

'Why were they so cruel to a stranger who was powerless to resist?' - Heartbroken widow of murdered man

Nelson Chung
Nelson Chung

Ashleigh McDonald

Two Co Antrim men were jailed on Tuesday for a total of 25 years for the brutal murder of Chinese businessman Nelson Cheung.

Sentencing Christopher David Menaul (27) and Virgilio Augusto Fernando Correia (35) at Belfast Crown Court for murdering Mr Cheung and for attacking and robbing his wife Winnie, Mr Justice Treacy said: "The lives of two honest, hard-working people were totally destroyed by the actions of drug-addled, parasitic assailants who were motivated by the need to feed their drugs habits.

Correia, formerly of Grant Avenue in Randalstown, was told he will serve a minimum sentence of 16 years without any remission before he is considered eliguible for release. Menaul, originally from Barra Street in Antrim, was handed a minimum jail term of nine years.

Mr and Mrs Cheung had just closed their takeaway restaurant on Randalstown's Main Street in the early hours of January 8, 2015 and were making their way home to Ballymena where their jeep was rammed by Menaul and Correia.

After 64-year-old Mr Cheung went to speak to the driver of the car, he was pulled away by Correia who after demanding money, stabbed the "slight" pensioner 18 times. Mrs Cheung was dragged from her car by the hair, sustained serious wounds to her head and hand, and also had her handbag stolen.

After the attackers fled, Mrs Cheung was found by the emergency services, covered in blood and cradling her fatally wounded husband. Mr Justice Treacy said: "This pitiful scene at the side of a country road still haunts the Cheung family to this day. It is an image they will never put behind them."

The Judge also revealed that a question still haunts Mrs Cheung - and she asks "why were they so cruel to a stranger who was so powerless to resist?"

He also revealed that Mr Cheung did not live to walk his daughter down the aisle the day she got married, he never got to meet his grandchildren, and he and Winnie never got to enjoy their retirement together.

Following Mr Cheung's murder, Winnie and their children returned to Hong Kong, from where they listened to today's proceedings via Skype.

During a previous court hearing, it emerged that Menaul and Correia had undertaken a 'dry run' ahead of the events which unfolded on a country road in January 2015.

Addressing Correia, Mr Justice Treacy said that it should have been apparent that when he decided to carry out the robbery, he would have been aware the "slightly build man was not a match for you physically."

Pointing out the consequences of bringing a knife to the robbery, Mr Justice Treacy told Correia: "A moment's reflection would have made it clear to you that there was no need to arm yourself with any weapon to overpower and rob these people.

The Judge said that Correia's decision to take a knife to the scene had "a catastrophic effect" and led to an "orgy of deadly violence", adding Mr Cheung may still be alive today, was it not for his "senseless cruelty."

The court heard that both Correia and Menaul were addicted to drugs, and that their motivation was to rob the Cheungs to pay off drugs debts to local paramilitaries.

Menaul was handed a minimum nine year sentence after it was accepted that he played a secondary role in the murder,  but knew about the presence of the knife.

He was also handed a 12-year sentence for wounding and robbing Mrs Cheung of a handbag containing and Ipad, iPhone, £200 in cash and bank and credit cards - as was co-accused Correia.

Also appearing beside the two killers were husband and wife Gary and Lisa Thompson, who were also sentenced for the roles they played in the aftermath of the murder.

After murdering Mr Cheung, and robbing and attacking Mrs Cheung, Menaul and Correia went to the Thompson's Cunningham Way home in Antrim.

The couple, who now live Felden Avenue in Newtownabbey, allowed the killers to use their home for refuge, to remove clothing worn during the incident and to clean themselves.

There was also an online attempt to buy a hot tub from eBay from their address in Antrim using one of the stolen bank cards in the hours after the murder

As well as admitted a charge of assisting offenders by letting the killers use their home, the couple also pleaded guilty to a charge of perverting the course of justice - namely threatening Virgilio Agusto Fernando Correia so as to discourage him from providing his account of police, on January 12, 2015.

And whilst Gary Thompson (34) admitted a charge of robbing Mrs Cheung of a handbag and its contents, his 35-year old wife Lisa admitted handling the stolen goods.

Gary was handed a sentence of seven years - half of which will be spent in prison with the remainder of the sentence on supervised licence - while Lisa was given a two year sentence, which was suspended for two years.

During today's hearing, Mr Justice Treacy revealed that in the days prior to the murder, both Correia and Menaul had been threatened by a paramilitary called Bobby over an unpaid drugs debt.

Pointing out the pair were under serious financial pressure to obtain funds to pay their debt, it was at this point the Cheung's restaurant became a target for a robbery.

After sentencing all four defendants for the roles their played, Mr Justice Treacy said that nothing would fill the void left by Mr Cheung's absence.

The Judge said: "Mrs Cheung lost her life partner of 32 years ... a man who helped and supported her in every way." He added that the businessman's death derived his daughter of a father who should have walked her down the aisle on her wedding day, and deprived his grandchildren of a "loving and wise elder."

Belfast Telegraph

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