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Teen involved in violent disorder on night of Cameron Blair murder has become 'a pariah', court hears

The juvenile's defence counsel, Timothy O'Leary SC, asked Mr Justice David Keane to give the boy 'a chance'
Cameron Blair (Pic: Gerard McCarthy)

Cameron Blair (Pic: Gerard McCarthy)

Alison O' Riordan

A teenage boy who committed violent disorder outside a house party where 20-year-old college student Cameron Blair was murdered has become "a pariah" in his community, the Central Criminal Court was told on Monday.

The court also heard during today's sentence hearing that the incident has had a "monumental effect" on the now 16-year-old accused, who cannot be named because he is a minor, and his family have had to "swap" homes with the boy's grandparents "to keep him out of trouble".

The juvenile's defence counsel, Timothy O'Leary SC, asked Mr Justice David Keane to give the boy "a chance" saying: "What is the actual purpose of putting him in jail when he has a chance to be a functioning person; a mechanic".

The barrister also said that his client had "got caught up in this awful maelstrom" which had led to the "tragic death" of Cameron Blair.

Gardai at the scene in Bandon Road, Cork, where Cameron Blair was stabbed. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Gardai at the scene in Bandon Road, Cork, where Cameron Blair was stabbed. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

The boy went on trial on May 28 charged with the production of a knife at a house on Bandon Road in Cork city on January 16, 2020. He had been on trial at the Central Criminal Court for almost three weeks before the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) decided not to continue with the charge.

The DPP will enter a nolle prosequi against the teenager in due course meaning that the State will not be proceeding with the charge of producing a knife against the juvenile.

The accused, who was 14 at the time of the incident, had pleaded not guilty to producing an article capable of inflicting serious injury in the course of a dispute, to wit a knife, in a manner likely to unlawfully intimidate another person.

Before the State opened its case in May, the boy pleaded guilty to committing violent disorder with two other persons present together, using or threatening to use unlawful violence, and such conduct taken together would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at Bandon Road in Cork city to fear for his or another person's safety at the said place on the same occasion.

Cameron was a native of Ballinascarthy in west Cork and a second-year chemical engineering student at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). He died at Cork University Hospital (CUH) on January 16, 2020 after being stabbed in the neck while attending a student party at a house in Cork city. Another juvenile has already pleaded guilty to his murder.

It was the defence contention during the trial that two boys out of a group of three who had gathered outside the house were in possession of a knife on the night but not the defendant in this case. One of the boys has admitted murdering Cameron and another has pleaded guilty to violent disorder and to the production of a knife.

However, it was the State's case that each of the three boys had a knife on the night.

At today's sentence hearing, prosecution counsel John Fitzgerald SC said the trial concluded after the DPP indicated it was not proceeding with the count of possession of a knife, in circumstances where the accused accepted that he was in possession of a butter knife during the course of events on the evening.

Mr Fitzgerald called Inspector Martin Canny, of Henry Street Garda Station, who summarised the facts of the case. He told Mr Fitzgerald that a party was taking place on Bandon Road during Freshers' Week at UCC and one of the guests was Cameron Blair. A number of people who knew each other congregated at the party and were drinking alcohol, said the witness, adding that some party-goers had consumed drugs.

An older drunk man, who was trying to get into the house was pushed back out of the house by Darren O'Leary, who was renting a room in the student accommodation, with the assistance of Cameron. Three youths who were not invited to the party and were standing outside noticed the incident and one of them was the accused. Cameron then prevailed on Mr O'Leary to invite the three youths into the house and they went inside the house.

Shortly after 9pm, one of the party-goers asked one of the teenagers with the accused if he would be able to source some cannabis for him and he [friend of the accused] was able to do so. There was a misunderstanding or disagreement for the amount paid for the drugs, which were later weighed.

The dispute altered the atmosphere of the house party and later led to a desire on the part of the occupants in the house to end it and move everyone out of the house, said Mr Fitzgerald, adding that there was an understanding amongst the party-goers that this was a "temporary" measure.

The three youths did not wish to leave the house and tried to get back in. There was an indication by the group that a phone charger had been left inside and it was passed out to them. There was also "an indication", Mr Fitzgerald said, that the group had left some drugs inside, which they wanted to retrieve.

Cameron was standing at the door with Mr O'Leary and was trying to keep the three youths outside the house. An altercation and verbal exchanges ensued between the two groups and when a girl at the party went to move people away, she was punched by the accused, said counsel.

Shortly before 9.30pm, people at the party heard "references" to knives, which were then produced, he said.

Mr Fitzgerald said it was the DPP's position that the accused in this case was in the possession of a butter knife. The barrister said that some witnesses saw the butter knife by his side, others saw him attempt to push through the door with it and other witnesses heard him say that he wanted "to shank people with it".

Counsel said that another juvenile had produced a knife and stabbed Cameron very quickly in the neck with it.

Farewell: The remains of Cameron Blair are carried from St Mary’s Church, Bandon. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Farewell: The remains of Cameron Blair are carried from St Mary’s Church, Bandon. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

In April 2020, a teenage boy, then aged 17, who murdered Cameron by plunging a knife into his neck, received a life sentence that will be reviewed in 2032. The boy, who could not be named because he was a minor, pleaded guilty to murdering Cameron on Bandon Road in Co Cork on January 16, 2020.

Mr Fitzgerald said the three youths ran away from the scene after the stabbing. In the aftermath of the attack, Cameron had walked back into the house and did not realise that he had been stabbed. He collapsed quickly, bled from the neck and was removed to CUH by ambulance, where he was pronounced dead that evening, said counsel.

Mr Fitzgerald said the accused in this case ran from the scene but later returned to the road. The court heard he ran away again and was apprehended shortly afterwards. An investigation took place and he was ultimately charged with violent disorder and possession of a knife.

The teenager has no previous convictions but was involved with the Garda's Juvenile Liaison Service on four occasions.

Insp Canny agreed with defence counsel Timothy O'Leary SC, for the teenager, that the only charge his client now faces is violent disorder, which he had pleaded guilty to.

The Inspector also agreed that one was dealing with a case where a 14-year-old boy was with his friends on the night, who were 17 and 18 years of age at the time and those inside the party were between 19 and 21 year of age.

Mr O'Leary said the three youths had "fell" into the party on "a very random basis", where an older man had been pushed out of the house onto a footpath. The three local boys were giving out about that, he noted, adding that Cameron then called the group "sound" and they were invited inside.

The witness agreed that the group had not "forced" their way inside. He further agreed that his client was offered "vodka in a bowl" at the party as the party-goers had ran out of cups and glasses to drink out of.

Mr O'Leary said that the issue regarding the drugs had started the argument and the three boys were "pushed" out the door and then made to leave the house. Counsel said it was the case that they then wanted to come back inside the party again and his client accepted that he had hit a girl.

The barrister said his client had walked from the scene, not ran and he then came back to the street on his own. "Whereas the other 'heroes', the 17 and 18 year olds, ran and didn't come back with their knives," said Mr O'Leary, adding that his client's actions were hardly that of a "very guilty person".

Mr Fitzgerald told Mr Justice Keane that he should base his sentence on the evidence which he heard at the trial, namely that the accused was holding a butter knife and had punched a young girl. "Those are the matters on which the court in the Director's view should base its sentence," he said.

Regarding the charge of production of a knife, Mr Fitzgerald said the court should disregard that as it is now the State's case that he had a butter knife, which would not come within the meaning of the original charge.

In mitigation, Mr O'Leary said the court was now concerned with the offence of violent disorder, which his client had pleaded guilty to at the outset of the trial. He said the boy comes from a very stable and supportive family and had a limited memory of the night. "He remembers a female shouting at him and remembers pushing her, feeling scared and he then lashed out. He can't remember how he hit her but describes his behaviour as a reflex action," he explained.

Mr O'Leary went on to say that the boy accepted that he discarded the butter knife and did not see the fatal stabbing of Cameron.

He asked the court to take into account that the juvenile had identified the victim, the victim's family, the female he hit and his own family as all "victims in the case" and had stated that he was sorry for his actions.

A probation report was made available to the court in which the officer said that the boy did not understand the full seriousness of the offence, something Mr O'Leary said he was "stuck with".

He also said that the report states that the teenager does not see how his own behaviour had caused "all the consequences" on that "very sad night".

"He presents as an impressionable and impulsive young person with a lack of emotional development," said the lawyer. The probation officer said he was at moderate risk of re-offending in the next year, the court heard.

In his submissions, Mr O'Leary said that this event has had "a monumental effect" on his client's life in Cork, where it was a "very big deal" and he was the youngest of the group. "Therefore everyone knows he is somewhat involved," he said, adding that on a daily basis in school he has found it very difficult to live with.

Mr O'Leary said that other mitigating factors was that his client does not present with any substance misuse issues and is committed to his full time education. He hopes to become a mechanic, the court heard.

After the offence, Mr O'Leary said that the boy's mother had to "swap" her house with her parents house to keep her son out of trouble and "to have a higher level of parental supervision".

There was now a social worker assigned to the family and the teenager "is a pariah to a certain extent" due to his involvement in the matter, said Mr O'Leary.

Counsel said his client appreciates that "his liberty may be in jeopardy" and that custody was an option, if that was the course to be adopted by the court. "I'm actually asking for a chance for this boy and I wouldn't do it lightly," he said. If it was not for the "awful consequences" for Cameron in this case, Mr O'Leary said probation would be granted to his young client in a lower court. "I have no doubt about that. He got caught up in this awful maelstrom which led to a tragic death," he added.

The barrister said his client did not behave well and hitting a girl and having a butter knife were not "nice things". "But what is the actual purpose of putting him in jail in the context when he has the chance to be a functioning person; a mechanic. I'm asking for a chance for this boy," he submitted.

Mr Justice Keane remanded the defendant on continuing bail until Friday, when the case will be mentioned in order to finalise a date for sentence.

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