Bellaghy man jailed after admitting causing ‘one-punch’ attack death

James McDonagh, 28, from Castledawson died after he was assaulted outside a bar and nightclub complex. PACEMAKER BELFAST.
James McDonagh, 28, from Castledawson died after he was assaulted outside a bar and nightclub complex. PACEMAKER BELFAST.

A Bellaghy man has been jailed after pleading guilty to causing the tragic death of a 28-year-old man from the Travelling Community in a so-called one-punch attack.

The plea by 26-year-old Finbar McCoy jr came yesterday (Tuesday), a day after he was due to have gone on trial for a second time before Londonderry Crown Court, for the manslaughter of Mr James McDonagh.

Mr McDonagh, from Castledawson, died in hospital from head injuries he sustained outside the Elk Bar, Toomebridge, in the early hours of January 10 last year.

McCoy jr from Tamlaghduff Road, had always admitted throwing the single punch which floored Mr McDonagh, but until Tuesday maintained he was innocent of causing his unlawful death.

Defence QC Elis McDermott asked trial judge Mrs Justice Keegan for her client to be “rearraigned” on the single count. Following his guilty plea, Ms McDermott said while McCoy had been on bail until now, he wished to go into custody.

The defence lawyer told the court, sitting in Belfast, that a set of agreed facts on which McCoy’s plea was based would be lodged with the court.

Prosecution QC Ciaran Murphy said that he would also be lodging a number of victim impact reports from the family of Mr McDonagh.

McCoy’s plea and sentence was adjourned until next month for preporation of those various reports.

Last month at the end of a week-long trial a jury reported they were “hopelessly divided” and could not agree on a verdict. They had heard that McCoy jr was in the Elk bar with his family celebrating his father’s retirement.

Mr McDonagh was also in the bar. However, as the evening came to a close around 2am, there was a confrontation in the carpark.

At one stage Mr McDonagh was stripped to the waist, “shouting and roaring.”

McCoy jr, returned to the carpark and found his parents were injured, and had to be restrained. However, he managed to break free and in a rage punched Mr McDonagh.

Although Mr McCoy sn and others put an unconscious Mr McDonagh in ‘the recovery position’, and despite advice that he should be taken to hospital, he was driven to his mother’s home.

She said her son was lying on the sofa, making a snoring noise, but she could not awaken him. Some hours later her daughter called for an ambulance, and staff found Mr McDonagh to be “totally unresponsive”.

A post mortem revealed Mr McDonagh died from bleeding and swelling of the brain after a punch caused him to fall backwards and his hit his head off the pavement, fracturing his skull.