A Coleraine man who narrowly escaped a prison term in connection with the death of Catholic community worker Kevin McDaid was jailed today following an altercation with the victim’s son.
David Craig Cochrane, a 24-year-old father of two from Windyhall Park, was one of a number of men who were sentenced this July for their roles in the May 2009 death of Mr McDaid.
The 49-year old died of a heart attack after he was attacked by a group of loyalists in the Heights area of the town following an Old Firm football match between Rangers and Celtic.
Cochrane was handed a year’s prison sentence, which was suspended for two years, after he admitted a charge of affray. Cochrane’s involvement amounted to climbing up a lamppost and removing a Tricolour and Celtic flag, which Belfast Crown Court heard “was one of the sparks that led to the very violent scenes that followed.”
Despite being handed a suspended sentence on July 1 for affray, Cochrane was arrested for disorderly behaviour - which amounted to breaching his suspended sentence - just five weeks after sentence was passed.
During today’s breach hearing, Judge Corinne Philpott QC was told by a Crown prosecutor that on August 9 an incident involving Cochrane and Ryan McDaid took place in Killowen Street close to the Heights area.
Telling Judge Philpott the incident involved “verbal abuse and hand gestures to Ryan McDaid”, the prosecutor said there was a “direct correlation” between what what happened in May 2009 and the “fresh offence” in August.
The court heard that as Mr McDaid and a friend were working on a trailer outside Mr McDaid’s home, Cochrane and four friends walked past. Cochrane shouted “w--kers, w--kers” at the two men and made a hand gesture towards McMcDaid, shouting “you stabbed your Da.”
The prosecutor said this comment appeared to be a reference to a newspaper report that claimed Mr McDaid had accidently stabbed his father on the day he died, but there was “no basis” for that allegation.
Cochrane was arrested for disorderly behaviour. He appeared in court on October 27 when he received a three month prison sentence, which was subsequently reduced to six weeks following an appeal.
Cochrane currently has three weeks of that sentence left to serve, and was back before Belfast Crown Court today regarding the breach of the suspended sentence that was imposed in July.
The court heard that part of the incident on August 9 was witnessed by a police officer, who saw Cochrane gesturing at Mr McDaid and who warned Cochrane to “keep walking on.” Despite the warning, Cochrane made a second hand gesture to Mr McDaid, and when he was arrested, he told officers his name was Mickey Mouse.
Defence barrister Conor O’Kane said that Cochrane was provoked and that as he was walking along Killowen Street with several friends, Mr McDaid saw him and shouted to him “You are a murdering Orange b--tard, we are going to kill you.” Mr O’Kane also said that after a verbal exchance, Mr McDaid followed Cochrane up the street, walking on the other side of the road.
The defence barrister told Judge Philpott that Cochrane was “very remorseful, to put it mildly.” He also said the offence on August 9, as with the offence in May 2009, was committed after drink was taken.
Judge Corinne Philpott told Mr O’Kane: “You client started this. He knew what he was doing.” She added: “Regardless of what happened, he made hand gestures. If the police hadn’t been there, what do you think was going to happen? There was going to be a fight, five on two.”
The Judge also said that while she accepted there may have been “some provocation”, Cochrane should have walked away - especially after being warned to do so by a police officer.
Addressing Cochrane, the Judge told him: “You must have known... when you were given a suspended sentence that if you committed any further offences in the next two years, that this sentence would be activated.”
The Judge added: “It is important that people release, and the public generally appreciate, that when suspended sentences are given, that they are not a soft option.”
She then told Cochrane: “The appropriate way to deal with this is to give you a sentence of six months” which she said would be served on top of the sentence he was given for disorderly behaviour.