“Paul was a vulnerable man, who rarely left his house as a result of agoraphobia. In fact, his home was the only place where he felt safe”
Paul Smyth was blasted in the chest with a sawn-off shotgun in 2019.
On Monday James Andrew Thomas McVeigh was told he will spend the next 18 years in jail for murder.
The sentence was handed out at Belfast Crown Court by Mr Justice Colton.
Mr Smyth (50) was killed as he sat in the living room of his Coulson Avenue home in the early hours of June 19, 2019.
His sister Teresa Valliday, speaking after the sentencing, said: “Paul was my much-loved younger brother – my only sibling. He was the last immediate member of my childhood family.
“My brother was brutally and cruelly murdered in his own home almost three years ago. His life was taken; and I’ve had my heart ripped apart.
“Paul was a good man. He was a vulnerable man, who rarely left his house as a result of agoraphobia. In fact, his home was the only place where he felt safe.”
The court had heard how Mr Smyth lived alone and rarely left his home, where he sold drugs on a small scale.
On June 21, 2019, a concerned friend who had been trying to contact him called to his home and discovered his body.
His T-shirt was covered in blood, and after she raised the alarm, emergency services arrived at the scene.
A post-mortem examination concluded that Mr Smyth's death was due to a shotgun wound to the chest fired from “no more than a few feet away”.
Hours after the murder, McVeigh was caught on CCTV paying for sportswear with cash which the Crown says he stole from Mr Smyth during the shooting.
With an address at Maghaberry, McVeigh was told he will serve a minimum of 18 years behind bars for murdering Mr Smyth before he is considered eligible for release by parole commissioners.
McVeigh was also told that "if and when" he is released from jail, he will be subject to recall to prison if he breaches any terms of his licence.
With both lower arms in bandages, McVeigh appeared in court via video-link from the prison. He appeared not to be listening to proceedings and sat slapping his own head and twitching for most of the sentencing hearing.
In addition to the murder charge, he was sentenced for possessing the weapon used to kill Mr Smyth, and for possessing the same firearm in suspicious circumstances after a second gun attack at a house in Lisburn.
Three other men were also sentenced for offences linked to Mr Smyth's murder, and for the second shooting at a house in Mill Street on June 23, 2019.
A couple were woken from their sleep by noises outside a window, and when the male occupant spoke to two men outside his home, a shot was fired at the bedroom window, which smashed the glass.
The couple's nine-year old son was sleeping at the time. The attack left the occupants so traumatised that they have since moved.
James Holmes admitted two counts of attempting to murder the couple in their home, and of possessing the sawn-off shotgun. The 35-year old, from Lawnmount Crescent in Lisburn, was handed an extended custodial sentence totalling 16 years. This consists of 13 years in prison, followed by three years on licence.
James Robert Stewart, also with an address at Maghaberry, admitted two firearms offences. The 32-year old pleaded guilty to possessing firearms with intent, and in suspicious circumstances. He was handed a 10-year sentence which Mr Justice Colton divided equally between prison and licence.
A fourth man - Ryan Mark Megarry (39) - was sentenced on a charge of encouraging or assisting offenders and believing that burglary of theft would occur.
Megarry, of Salia Avenue in Carrickfergus, visited Smyth's home prior to his death where he bought drugs, and on June 18, 2019, he pointed out his house to McVeigh.
Mr Justice Colton handed Megarry an 18-month sentence, divided equally between prison and licence.
The judge said that while he accepted that Megarry was unaware McVeigh was going to kill Mr Smyth, in pointing out the house he "initiated a serious of events which resulted in the murder of a vulnerable man in his own home in the early hours of the morning".
He added that after reading victim impact statements, compiled by Smyth's sister, nephew and cousin, it was clear that his death has had an "enduring and debilitating effect" on his family.
He noted that Mr Smyth had issues with depression and alcohol, but "despite these difficulties, he was someone who was loved and valued”.
Valliday, speaking afterwards, said her brother had issues but was determined to try to help others.
“While in recovery from alcoholism, he set up a website where people, from all over the world, could connect with each other and find support for mental health and addiction issues.
"With the help of others, in particular two brilliant colleagues, they offered help to those who were suicidal or in crisis. The two have managed to keep the site up and running. This is a lasting tribute to Paul, and I know he would have been so pleased.
“This is how I remember him. This is how my sons and daughter remember their uncle, and it’s this side of him – this desire to help others – that I want everyone to see.
“We miss him more than I can say. And those whom he tried to help online will miss him too. No one should ever have to experience the pain – the sheer torment – of a precious life lost needlessly and so cruelly.
“Paul’s murderer has been brought before court today and the judge has passed sentence. Now we have to, somehow, try to heal.”
Detective Inspector Ian Davis said: “My thoughts are, first and foremost, with Mr Smyth’s family.
“Today’s sentencing will, of course, never take away their pain, and I can only hope that it helps to bring some degree of closure.
“It also sends out a clear message to anyone who thinks they can get away with such atrocity: we will work tirelessly and relentlessly to bring offenders before the courts, so that victims and their families receive the justice they deserve.”