Man wins sentence appeal in cigarette killing

A man jailed for murdering a grandfather in a row over a cigarette yesterday won an appeal against the length of his sentence.

Gerard Connors’s minimum prison term for killing Seamus Fox in west Belfast was reduced from 13 to 12 years.

Judges held that the 20-year-old was given insufficient credit for admitting he was guilty of the April 2010 murder.

Mr Fox (58) was beaten to death as he walked home from a night out at Donegal Celtic Sports Club on Suffolk Road.

The father-of-eight suffered serious head injuries. His body was found on waste ground close to Woodbourne PSNI station.

The lord chief justice, Sir Declan Morgan, described it as “a brutal, merciless attack”.

Connors, then aged 18 and from Belfast, inflicted the fatal blows after earlier pestering the victim for a cigarette.

He had drunk up to 10 pints of beer and smoked cannabis before the confrontation.

He was jailed for life after pleading guilty to the murder as he was about to go on trial at Belfast Crown Court last October.

His lawyers challenged the minimum 13-year tariff on a number of grounds.

They claimed that the trial judge did not give enough weight to Connors’s expression of remorse, his youth and his clear record.

It was further contended that the conditions under which the plea was entered were not taken into account when reducing the credit for making an admission at a late stage.

Sir Declan, sitting in the Court of Appeal with Lord Justices Girvan and Coghlin, accepted that Connors’s age at the time of the murder should be given some weight.

He noted that the appellant admitted his involvement to his mother the morning after the attack.

Connors’s family arranged for him to go to police where Connors accepted that he asked Mr Fox for a cigarette and admitted striking him a number of times.

His solicitor then intervened in the interview process to raise issues about possible self-defence.

“This was an 18-year-old boy who had not previously found himself in court,” Sir Declan said.

“He and his parents were very much in the hands of the lawyers as to how they should be guided in these matters.

“Both the applicant and his family had acted responsibly in coming to the police and making effectively full admissions about the applicant’s involvement in the offence at a very early stage.

“In those circumstances we do not consider that this is a case in which the applicant should have been disadvantaged as a result of the advice which he accepted.”