'alcohol-addled' | 

Belfast man who killed neighbours two days before Christmas pleads guilty to manslaughter

Steven Arthur Andrew McBrine admitted unlawfully killing Frances Murray (37) and Joseph Dutton (47)

Steven McBrine

Ashleigh McDonald

A north Belfast man who killed two of his neighbours in an "alcohol-addled" incident two days before Christmas will be sentenced for the double manslaughter next week.

Steven Arthur Andrew McBrine admitted unlawfully killing Frances Murray (37) and Joseph Dutton (47), who were both beaten to death in Ms Murray's flat in north Belfast in on December 23, 2019.

Whilst the couple both died from blunt force trauma caused by a sustained assault, McBrine (38) also stabbed Ms Murray in the throat with a broken vodka bottle.

Belfast Crown Court heard that in December 2019, all three - who had issues with alcohol - lived in separate flats in an apartment complex at Kinnaird Close.

CCTV from the apartment complex was played during the plea hearing, where Murray can be seen with a serious eye injury inflicted by McBrine prior to the fatal assault.

It also emerged that before she was killed, Ms Murray sought refuge in another neighbour's flat after McBrine told her 'I'm going to slit your throat'.

Victim Frances Murray

Crown barrister David McDowell QC told Mr Justice O'Hara that around 5am on December 23, 2019 a resident of Kinnaird Close was woken by the sound of Ms Murray shouting and McBrine banging on his door.

During the commotion, McBride was heard accusing Ms Murray of stealing money from him, and in the early hours they were both picked up on the internal CCTV system on several occasions.

Ms Murray left her flat several times, and McBrine was seen following her and opening doors aggressively.

At one point she returned to her flat and closed the door on McBrine, who was captured on CCTV trying to force his way into her property.

Around 10.20am, McBrine came out of another flat in the complex occupied by Joseph Dutton, who was in a relationship with Ms Murray.

A short time later, Ms Murray left her neighbour's flat and was pushed in the corridor by McBrine.

Mr McDowell said: "She returned to her flat and closed the door on him. He then pushed the door open and went in. That was the last time Ms Murray was seen on the CCTV at Kinnaird Close."

At around 11.20am McBrine called a friend who lived on Cliftonville Road. During this call, McBrine's friend heard a female in the background who was crying and saying 'stop hitting me, leave me alone'.

McBrine was captured leaving Ms Murray's flat at 12.12pm with blood stains visible on his tracksuit bottoms and trainers.

The bloodied and battered bodies of both Ms Murray and Mr Dutton were discovered in her flat half an hour later by the same neighbour she had spoken to earlier that morning.

Ms Murray was found lying on her back in the living room, whilst Mr Dutton was killed in the kitchen.

The emergency services were called, and a search was launched to locate McBrine.

He called to a friend's house where he changed his tracksuit bottoms, and when asked about his blood-stained clothing, McBrine claimed he'd been attacked 'by three wee lads.'

McBrine was picked up on CCTV at various locations in north Belfast and the city centre during the day before being apprehended by police at Clifton Park Avenue at 6.09pm clutching a bottle of Buckfast.

During his arrest, an intoxicated McBrine was aggressive and threatened police.

When he was fit for interview, he claimed that after drinking vodka with Ms Murray and Ms Dutton, he thought she stole money from him and that she laughed at him.

He told police: "I just lost my temper, then I blacked out and when I came round and saw them both lying there, I left."

McBrine said he had consumed drink along with Diazepam, Pregabalin and cocaine prior to the fatal assaults.

He also revealed that after attacking and stabbing Ms Murray, when Mr Dutton tried to intervene, 'I punched him and he fell and I kicked him a good few times'.

Post mortem examinations carried out on the couple revealed they both died from blunt force trauma.

In Mr Dutton's case, the injuries inflicted to his head, neck and chest were consistent with a sustained and prolonged assault.

Ms Murray also sustained multiple wounds to her head, stab wounds to her neck and bleeding to the brain.

Blood tests concluded that at the time of their deaths, both Ms Murray and Mr Dutton were heavily intoxicated.

The scene of the attack in north Belfast. Photo: Kevin Scott

Mr McDowell said Victim Impact Statements compiled by the families of both deceased "revealed the devastating loss that has been caused by these killings.

"They relate to the many attributes, and in particular the warmth of personality of the two deceased and the love their families had for them."

Mr McDowell told Mr Justice O'Hara that whilst McBride denied murdering the couple, he pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

This, he revealed, was due to McBrine's dependence on alcohol and a diagnosis of mixed personality order.

Defence barrister John Kearney QC said he had been instructed by his client to apologise to the families of the two people he killed.

Saying McBrine acknowledges the "pain and suffering" he has caused, Mr Kearney said it was also accepted that Ms Murray and Mr Dutton were "utterly blameless" for what occurred.

The barrister said that at the time of the double killings, McBrine was "addled" with drink and drugs, and is aware "he did a terrible thing".

Mr Kearney added that whilst in remand, McBrine "hasn't put a foot wrong" in prison, is now "drug and alcohol-free" and "wants to take all the help available to him".

After listening to the lengthy submissions from both the Crown and defence, Mr Justice O'Hara said: "I hope the families understand that I need some time to consider exactly what sentence is appropriate."

The senior judge said he would pass sentence next Wednesday, and McBrine - who appeared via a videolink with Maghaberry - was remanded back into custody.

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