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abuse of flower ‘Beacon' of the community’ hit teenager with golf club after row with brother

'He has been plagued by some individuals within this community on an almost daily basis'.

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Our man Steven Moore chats with McCooke

Our man Steven Moore chats with McCooke

Our man Steven Moore chats with McCooke

This is the “beacon” of the community who swapped flower power for golf club power to batter a teenager repeatedly over the head.

Stephen McCooke was handed a suspended sentence after a shocking incident saw him first launch an assault on a 15-year-old by grabbing him by the neck and then later bashing his older brother with a golf club.

The 53-year-old from the Ballymena Road in Ahoghill, Co Antrim, is in the volunteer group Ahoghill in Bloom and had been planting flowers to make the town look prettier when he claimed he was abused by the 15-year-old.

Ballymena Magistrates Court heard this week how after the assaults, McCooke says he was targeted by a group of heavily armed men who went to his home.

His car was attacked with bottles just weeks after the incident — something which he posted on social media describing those behind the attack as “dirty lowlifes”. On Thursday he told the Sunday World that since then relations between himself and the other family had improved.

“I just want to be left alone to live in peace, that’s all I ever wanted,” he explained to us.

“I don’t really want to say much more because I don’t want to antagonise the other family, things have calmed down now and hopefully we can put it all behind us.

“It wasn’t a pleasant incident and I accepted I was out of order and didn’t handle the situation very well. I regret what happened and I’m glad it’s all over.

“It caused a lot of hassle but like I say it has all calmed down. I could have gone to jail and I’m glad that didn’t happen, but I just want to forget it all and get on with my life in peace now. Thanks.”

He pleaded guilty to twoassaults and possessing a golf club as an offensive weapon in relation to March 1 this year.

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The village campaign McCooke spearheaded

The village campaign McCooke spearheaded

The village campaign McCooke spearheaded

A prosecutor said that at 5.10pm a 15-year-old was sitting on a windowsill near the entrance of a NISA store in Ahoghill and after a “conversation” McCooke grabbed him by the neck and he “couldn’t breathe”.

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The defendant tried to slap the teenager, it was said.

The boy was left with bruising to his neck in the incident which had been witnessed by a member of his family who had been driving past.

The boy’s 19-year-old brother then went to the defendant’s home “to ask him what happened” and McCooke came out with a golf club.

The teenager said he was struck up to six times on the head, shoulders and arms with the golf club but he managed to grab the weapon before breaking it in half and throwing it away.

A defence barrister said the defendant, who previously had a clear record, was part of the “volunteer group Ahoghill in Bloom”.

The lawyer said McCooke was “fiercely proud” of the community but “unfortunately there are other individuals in that area who have caused considerable anti-social trouble and made Mr McCooke’s life a misery.

“He has been plagued by some individuals within this community on an almost daily basis”.

The barrister said on the date in question the 15-year-old “decided to give Mr McCooke a hard time regarding his efforts in trying to better the local area”.

He said the defendant “lost his temper” and had been “goaded so much” that he grabbed the youth by the “scruff of the hoodie that he was wearing”.

After that was witnessed by a family member, the boy’s brother went to “remonstrate” with the defendant, the defence lawyer said.

The lawyer said the defendant was a “keen golfer” and “for his own personal safety, which he shouldn’t have done, grabbed a golf club”.

The court heard McCooke had insight and remorse as he had “let himself down” as he is a “beacon of the Ahoghill community”.

The defence barrister added: “Very shortly thereafter this

incident a number of heavily armed men came to Mr McCooke’s home and he is living in fear of his own personal safety out of this incident.

“It is a terrible situation he finds himself in because he wants to live in Ahoghill and make it better but on a daily basis he can feel the palpable intimidation of him at present.”

District Judge Nigel Broderick told the defendant: “I recognise that you are, hitherto, a man of good character.

“However, the court cannot endorse anyone taking the law into what they perceive to be their own hands.

“If you had any concerns about the victims in this case they should have been reported to the police. And they are quite young, you are 53 years of age and one of them was only 15 and the other 19.

“Irrespective of what your perceptions of what they may or may not have done in the community that does not give anyone the right to grab a child or teenager by the throat and hit somebody else with a golf club.”

The judge took into account a guilty plea and clear record but said he would mark the “serious nature of the matter” with a three-month prison term, suspended for one year.

steven.moore@sundayworld.com

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