Vincent Doran started a 41-month sentence at Maghaberry Prison after he walked into a Belfast eatery with a hammer hidden in a Lidl shopping bag.
Doran, from the Springfield Road in the west of the city, had admitted offences of affray, possessing a hammer as a weapon with intent to cause GBH, criminal damage and assaulting police on 7 July last year.
The 33-year-old smacked one man twice in the forehead with the claw part of the hammer sending spurts of blood flying across the Yangtze Chinese restaurant and over shocked customers enjoying their meal.
He then chased the second man into the Donegall Place restaurant’s kitchen before attacking him with the hammer too.
Doran also assaulted police officers and spat on them during his arrest.
He also assaulted Belfast woman Chantelle Collins after slamming her into the ground as he made his way out from the scene leaving shoppers terrified.
She told the Sunday World this week it was a “terrifying” incident and while Belfast Crown Court failed to shed light on what started the shocking daylight incident, she reveals that a row over money was behind the sickening attack.
“I didn’t know who Vincent Doran was, I’d never met him before until that day,” she told us.
“I was in the restaurant with John (Crockard) and David Weir. Next thing this man just comes in and takes out a hammer from his shopping bag and goes for David.
“Apparently he was after David because they’d had a fall out over money. John got whacked with the hammer because he stood up to protect David. David ran into the kitchen and closed the door.
“John got whacked a couple of times trying to stop Doran from getting to David. He got whacked with the claw part of the hammer when he got up there was blood spurting out everywhere.
“I remember there was a couple sitting in the restaurant enjoying their dinner and he got covered in blood from John’s head.”
The shocking incident saw the restaurant and other shops in the area close down for the day but bizarrely none of the people attacked made any complaints to the police.
“He knocked me over when he pushed past me but luckily I wasn’t badly hurt,” says Chantelle.
“It was really scary and there were loads of kids in the restaurant too so it must have been terrible for them to see that.
“David hid in the kitchen but the staff at the restaurant wanted him out and Doran forced his way int through the door and that’s when he got hit twice.
“John got it worse because he was trying to protect his friend. He was supposed to go to hospital because of concussion but he didn’t go. Instead we all just went for a drink.
“I didn’t even know this case was happening until you contacted me. We didn’t know he had been jailed but I’m glad he was because that was completely mental what he did.”
On Tuesday at Craigavon Crown Court 33-year-old Doran was ordered to spend half his sentence in prison and half on licence.
Judge Patrick Lynch QC said the case was “out of the ordinary” given the two men he attacked had not made any complaints.
Prosecuting counsel Philip Henry told the court the two men were having a meal in Yangtze Restaurant on Donegall Place when Doran walked in and lifting a claw hammer out of a plastic shopping bag, whacked John Crockard twice to the head.
Doran also struck David Weir twice to the head, chasing after him shouting as he fled to a private staff area of the restaurant.
Mr Henry said events then moved outside where Doran was seen shouting at a woman named Chantelle Collins before “slamming her into the ground” with such ferocity that the manager of the Gap store nearby felt compelled to close the shop to protect himself and customers.
The lawyer said while none of the people attacked by Doran had given statements to police, they were able to identify the assailant from CCTV footage, adding that cops spotted him on Castle Lane a short time after the incidents.
“When he saw the police he put the bag down and started to walk away,” said Mr Henry but when it was examined, cops found the hammer along with prescription medication in Doran’s name.
When Doran was arrested, “he was disruptive with police, spitting on two of them, coughing in their faces when they were asking him Covid related questions and then spitting on the inside of the police vehicle.”
Commenting that there just have been an element of planning given the fact that Doran was carrying a hammer in a bag, Mr Henry submitted that the attack “had all the hallmarks of a targeted incident.”
Lodging a plea in mitigation, defence counsel Luke Curran said there is a “paucity of evidence” other than the CCTV footage of the hammer being used although he did concede the video is “nasty.”
Highlighting that Doran had a “blackout” so cannot remember anything about the incident, the lawyer said the judge had no evidence regarding the motivation for the attack of relating to any injuries which were inflicted apart from a gash visible on the footage.
Jailing Doran, Judge Lynch said he had a “serious doubt whether his amnesia is a reality or not but I make no further comment on that.”
“There may be a connection between them all but because no one has given any explanation for any of the incidents, I cannot say that they’re connected but they are concerning of themselves,” said the judge.
He told Doran he “cannot ignore” the fact that he “spat at another human being, especially given the present circumstances of the pandemic” so the charges of assaulting police and damaging the police vehicle warranted consecutive sentences.
The hammer wielding thug, revealed the judge, was also in breach of two suspended sentences which would also be imposed consecutively.
Speaking to the Sunday World after the sentencing Lisburn Road Sergeant Mike Brown said: “I hope this sentencing sends out a clear message to anyone who thinks they can get away with this type of violent crime. We will work tirelessly to bring offenders before the courts so that that victims receive the justice they deserve.
“I would ask anyone is a victim of crime to contact police on the non-emergency number 101, or 999 in an emergency. or submit a report online using our non-emergency reporting form via http://www.psni.police.uk/makeareport/."