Englishman jailed for Temple Bar fight death

An English man was jailed for five years at the Central Criminal Court today for killing a Vietnamese man in Temple Bar in August 2002.

James Harmer, aged 27, of the Abbey Court Hostel, Bachelors Walk, Dublin, and co-accused, Noel O'Flaherty, aged 34, of McCormack Gardens, Baldoyle, Co Dublin, had pleaded not guilty to the murder of 50-year-old Ly Minh Luong at Temple Bar, Dublin, on August 19, 2002.

The two had also pleaded not guilty to assault causing harm to Wei Dong, aged 37, at Temple Bar, Dublin on August 16, 2002.

On May 12, following a total of seven hours and 20 minutes of deliberations over two days, a jury unanimously found Harmer not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter and both men were found guilty of causing harm.

Today Mr Justice Paul Butler sentenced Harmer to five years imprisonment for the manslaughter of Mr Luong and six months for the assault of Mr Dong. The sentences were backdated to April 20, 2005.

The jury had delivered a 10 to 12 majority verdict of "not guilty of murder, but disagreed on manslaughter" verdict for O'Flaherty. Sentencing for O’Flaherty’s assault conviction is adjourned until he is retried for manslaughter at a later date.

During the 12-day trial, the court heard about the events on the night of August 16, which led to Mr Luong's death three days later.

Harmer - who is from Staffordshire in England - and O'Flaherty were acquaintances. Both worked as doormen and sometimes chatted late at night at the Abbey Court Hostel, where they were staying at the time.

That night, they had been to a few pubs and a nightclub and were heading home through Temple Bar around 2am. Harmer told the court he was not drunk, but "tipsy" and O'Flaherty said he was drunk after nine to 10 pints "and a few shorts".

By the Central Bank Harmer and O'Flaherty passed two "Asian looking" men.

Mr Dong, a former member of the Chinese Special Police and a martial arts expert, had followed his friend, Mr Luong, out of Club M to urge him to take a taxi home instead of driving.

The Prosecution said Mr Dong did not have a good memory of the night.

Mr Dong told the court he heard words to the effect of "f---ing Chinese". O'Flaherty said his co-accused said "Chinese wankers, Chinese bastards", "but James says stuff like that all the time".

Harmer said he "may have made a silly remark at some point of the fight". He denied the "silly" remark was racist.

Mr Dong described the attack on him: "They punched me to the face and the body. My eyes were covered in blood, I couldn't see anything. I got a kick in the chest and fell to the ground."

Harmer told gardaí he did not start the fight, but then said he "maybe" did. The court heard that the fight between the four men started and stopped three times.

Eyewitnesses, none of whom saw the entire incident, told the court one of the Irish looking men said "f--- off and stop following (them)" to a Chinese man.

O'Flaherty said he joined the fight only "to stop James". O'Flaherty told the court he threw "two to three punches" and head-butted Mr Dong, while he was trying to get Mr Dong to end the fight.

O'Flaherty said he stood between his co-accused and the Asian man, trying to stop the fight, but "James threw a kick around me and hit the guy in the head".

He said the second Asian man intervened and went for Harmer, which is when O'Flaherty threw a punch at him. Harmer also threw punches at the man.

"He went straight down and banged his head. There was a thud," said O'Flaherty.

The court heard how O'Flaherty said "Jesus Christ" when the Asian man fell and he was shouting at James "to stop it".

O'Flaherty admitted head-butting the stockier Asian man, holding him by the shirt, saying "stop it, quit it, it's gone too far".

O'Flaherty told gardaí he was "frightened by the whole thing" and that he never gets into fights.

The two accused walked away from the fight and went voluntarily to Pearse Street Garda Station the next morning. They have not had any contact with each other since, the court heard.

"Just bring me a sedative, because I'll go bananas if this guy dies," O'Flaherty told Detective Garda Brendan Supple during his 11-hour interview at the station.

On August 19, Mr Luong was taken off a life support machine at St James's Hospital, where he died of severe brain injuries.

Detective Sergeant John Doyle told the court that Mr Luong was originally from Vietnam and had arrived in Ireland in 1979 as a refugee after the Vietnam War. He settled here, started a family and had established two take-away businesses.

Mr Dong arrived in Ireland in 1999, and became good friends with the deceased after working at his take-away.

Describing the accused Harmer’s background, Det Sgt Doyle said he was a single man who had come to Ireland to work with his father and brother. They later left to go back to the UK while Harmer remained here.

The court heard that while he was on bail, Harmer was involved in an incident in the UK last September. Harmer was sentenced to four months in prison by the Stafford Crown Court, which he served before his trial in Ireland.

Handing down today's sentence, Mr Justice Butler said: “The fact remains that manslaughter is the second most serious crime recognised by the courts.”

He said the Harmer’s offer of a manslaughter plea, which was rejected by the prosecution before the trial, would be considered in the sentencing. Mr Justice Butler said he was giving the accused the benefit of the doubt because he was unarmed at the time of the incident.

He said six years would be “the appropriate sentence”, but Mr Justice Butler reduced the sentence to five years, given that Harmer will serve his time in Ireland, away from his family.

In relation to the assault causing harm conviction, Mr Justice Butler said: “Because of the lack of medical evidence, I am sentencing him to six months in prison.”

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