manslaughter charge | 

Ex-Derry GAA captain Fergal Doherty accused of killing customer outside his bar

Aaron Law — 34-year-old father-of-two — who was from Portglenone, was found lying unconscious outside the bar at about 1.10am on Sunday.

Fergal Doherty© SPORTSFILE

Paul HigginsBelfast Telegraph

A grieving family looked on in court as a Co Antrim bar owner and former captain of Derry Gaelic team was charged with the manslaughter of a customer.

Relatives of Aaron Law filled the public gallery at Ballymena Magistrates Court today as appearing at court by videolink from police custody, 41-year-old Fergal Gerard Doherty was charged with his manslaughter on Sunday.

While Doherty, of Main Street in Portglenone, confirmed that he understood the single charge against him, detective sergeant Brannigan said he believed he could connect the defendant to the charge.

Mr Law — 34-year-old father-of-two — who was from Portglenone, was found lying unconscious outside the bar at about 1.10am on Sunday.

Mr Law had suffered a head injury and was taken to hospital but tragically later died.

During a contested bail application, the court heard how Mr Law had been at a stag party in the bar when a doorman “escorted” him from the premises.

Outside, the victim had a “verbal altercation” with the doorman and according to defence counsel Joe Brolly, Mr Law “swung a punch” at Doherty when he tried to intervene, but the retired Gaelic footballer retaliated, punching the victim once.

DS Brannigan agreed with the barrister’s suggestions that according to the defendant, two witness statements and pathology evidence, Doherty’s punch caused Mr Law to fall and strike his head on the roadway.

The detective added, however, that with Mr Law lying unconscious in the middle of the road, the doorman and Doherty “left him and returned to the bar”.

The court heard he was left lying for up to 15 minutes and that at one stage, a car had to brake and drive around him before parking further down the street.

After 10 to 15 minutes from the initial incident, the doorman and Doherty went back outside and pulled Mr Law from the roadway but there was still no medical assistance sought and instead, they “propped him up against the wall of the bar”.

It was only when a sober member of the public noticed that Mr Law needed medical assistance that an ambulance was called and the paramedics in turn contacted the police.

The court heard that Mr Law was taken to hospital but despite medical intervention, he was pronounced dead at 4.41pm.

Meanwhile, police investigating the tragic death spoke to the doorman and Doherty, who both initially claimed they did not know how Mr Law came to be hurt, but the court also heard that during a phone conversation with the victim’s brother-in-law, the “extremely distressed” defendant admitted he had thrown a punch and that he intended to hand himself in to police.

DS Brannigan outlined how Doherty gave a “full account” of his version of events, claiming that he had acted in self-defence when he punched Mr Law once in the face.

“His account has been corroborated by other individuals,” said the detective, adding that with around 30 people in the bar, investigators have spoken to around half of them but are still conducting a live investigation.

He told the court police were objecting to bail due to fears that Doherty could interfere with the ongoing investigation or could commit further offences, even though he has a clear record.

Under cross examination from Mr Brolly, the DS agreed that the witness accounts taken to date “entirely corroborates” Doherty’s account with “nothing to contradict his account” that he acted in self-defence.

While the barrister submitted that CCTV footage was clear in that it showed Mr Law taking “two or three steps” towards Doherty in an aggressive way, the officer said all he could see was two “vague figures” and could not discern who was who.

Turning to his submissions, Mr Brolly conceded that although “it’s really a terrible, terrible tragedy” for the Law family, he argued that Doherty should not have been charged in the first place given he was acting in self-defence and also that there was an “overwhelming case” for the alleged killer to be granted bail.

“Mr Doherty is a very well-known young man who played Gaelic football for Bellaghy, Derry and Ulster with distinction,” said Mr Brolly adding that he has a “clear record and no trouble with the police” and the bar has been shut since the incident.

“In the circumstances of this case, it’s an obvious a case of self-defence as I have come across in 30 years of practice as a criminal defence barrister,” Mr Brolly submitted, describing Doherty as “devastated and grief stricken” at Mr Law’s tragic death.

Despite his exhortations however, District Judge Nigel Broderick refused to free Doherty.

Commenting that more than a dozen witnesses still needed to be spoken to in the live investigation which centred around a “small rural community”, the judge said he was concerned about the risk of the witnesses and the investigation being interfered with or instructed.

Remanding Doherty into custody, he adjourned the case to December 1.

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