An Armagh man who admitted the manslaughter of his neighbour during a row has been spared jail.
Brian Anthony Nicholl (52), of Ballynahone Close, appeared in Newry Crown Court today (Wednesday) for sentencing.
He had previously pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of 65-year-old Nigel Burgess on April 11, 2020, with a number of family members in court to hear the verdict.
His Honour Judge Kerr KC imposed an enhanced combination order of 100 hours’ community service plus two years on probation.
A post-mortem found Mr Burgess’ death was caused by an underlying heart condition, triggered by the fight.
Delivering his judgement, Judge Kerr said Mr Burgess was a member of a close family and he was “well loved and respected by them all”.
A victim impact from his brother David described “the living hell” since his death as “we tried to take it all in and figure out what had happened”.
He said Mr Burgess was one of 13 siblings, all of whom had been badly affected, with some needing counselling.
At the end of the victim impact statement, David Burgess said: “There are no words to fully describe the impact of Nigel’s death to me and my family. There is nothing that can be said to heal the hurt that has been caused and the gap that has been left in our lives by it.”
On the night in question, a neighbour had phoned the defendant to tell him that Mr Burgess was in a car park at Ballynahone Close.
This neighbour had claimed the deceased had “taken to observing his movements” much to his annoyance.
Judge Kerr said: “There was then an initial verbal confrontation involving the defendant and the deceased. Brian Nicholl then threw a punch, Nigel Burgess sought to defend himself… and a fight ensued during which Brian Nicholl accepts he exchanged punches.
“The physical exchange only stopped when Nigel Burgess was lying motionless and unconscious on the ground and at that point Brian Nicholl left the scene and walked back into his house.”
Another neighbour went out to check on Mr Burgess “and he didn’t appear to be breathing”.
Shortly afterwards, the defendant came back out of his house and said to Nigel Burgess, “Budgie, get up” and rolled him onto his back.
Police and paramedics tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate Mr Burgess and he was pronounced dead at the scene at 11.19pm.
A post mortem by Dr James Lynas, the state pathologist for Northern Ireland, concluded that none of the injuries – bruising, abrasions and minor lacerations – were significant or life-threatening and they did not contribute to Mr Burgess’ death.
He also found there was no evidence Mr Burgess was rendered unconscious as a result of any physical blow to the head or injury.
Dr Lynas also found the deceased had a narrowing of the arteries, that were clogged up, and concluded that Mr Burgess’s death was “precipitated by a cardiac arrest which occurred during a physical and stressful altercation in association with a severe ischemic and hypertensive heart disease”.
A further opinion was sought from Professor Jennifer Adgey, honorary professor of cardiology at QUB and a consultant cardiologist at RVH, who agreed with the conclusion of Dr Lynas.
She said death was instantaneous and that the trigger was the altercation, which occurred in the presence of his heart condition.
Judge Kerr noted the defendant had 78 previous convictions, most for public order offences, with the last dating back to 2012.
He said the post-fight behaviour indicated the “level of anger and aggressiveness” displayed by the defendant on the night.
A pre-sentence report indicated the defendant had a good working history and worked up until four years ago as a painter and decorator when his health deteriorated.
It noted that he believed the victim was breathing when he left and was “shocked” to discover the victim had passed away.
The report assessed Nicholl as a “medium risk of reoffending” and did not pose a danger of significant harm to the community.
Judge Kerr also took into account references from previous employers, his poor health and that Nicholl is the main carer for his elderly mother.
Nicholl consented to abide by the enhanced combination order, as a direct alternative to a 12-month custodial sentence.
In a statement released afterwards, Detective Inspector Michelle Griffin said: “This is a tragic case, which has seen a life cut short and left loved ones bereft.
“I would urge people to think about how their actions – within a matter of minutes or even seconds – can change lives forever.”
The PSNI said the family of Mr Burgess have expressed thanks to both the Police Service and Ambulance Service for their response and support, especially their efforts to resuscitate Mr Burgess.