Page last updated at 14:20 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 15:20 UK

Bravery of witness who condemned killer

A semi-professional footballer has been jailed for killing his ex-girlfriend, six years after he was cleared of murder. His conviction, which followed a change in the law on "double jeopardy", came after another victim testified against him.

Kara Hoyte in hospital
Her bravery and determination to give evidence against Celaire, despite receiving near fatal head injuries, was astonishing
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Scola

In 2002 Mario Celaire, 32, from Sydenham, south-east London was found not guilty by an Old Bailey jury of killing his girlfriend Cassandra McDermott the previous year.

Five years later he attacked another girlfriend, Kara Hoyte, 19, with a hammer as she lay in bed. She suffered severe head and brain injuries and doctors gave her 24 hours to live.

But she survived and nine months after the attack she spoke to detectives, despite suffering paralysis down one side of her body and barely being able to communicate.

She said Celaire had confessed to killing Miss McDermott after she found court papers relating to the original trial. He said he had not meant to do it.

Armed with this new evidence, prosecutors argued at the High Court he should face another trial under the double jeopardy legislation, which changed in 2003.

The law now states that someone can be prosecuted again for serious offences such as murder, where "compelling new evidence" exists.

'Bravery and determination'

Detective Ch Insp Nick Scola, who led the investigation, paid tribute to Miss Hoyte for her role in convicting Celaire.

"Her bravery and determination to give evidence against Celaire, despite receiving near fatal head injuries, was astonishing. It is her strength that has helped bring justice to Cassie's family," he said.

Miss Hoyte sent a letter to Celaire as he was sentenced, telling him she was determined to get back her health, the court heard.

Mario Celaire
Mario Celaire pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempted murder

In it she tells him: "I stand here for you to see what you did to me. I know that you read all the reports but action speaks louder than words.

"I don't hate you, I pity you. I will get better and better with each day and stronger. You have only damaged my shell, I am still the same determined and strong person I always was."

The second Old Bailey trial heard Celaire, a former Maidstone United player, had a history of physically abusing Miss McDermott, 19.

Celaire, who also called himself Mario McNish, was a registered sex offender and began stalking her after she ended their four-year relationship.

Miss McDermott was killed while house-sitting at her mother's home in Norbury, south London, in October 2001.

The court heard Celaire either punched her or pushed her head into furniture, knocking her out and leaving her to choke to death.

'Short fuse'

His relationship with Miss Hoyte followed a similar pattern and his attack at her Walthamstow home followed their split in 2007.

The chain of events that lead to Celaire's conviction six years and six months after he was initially found not guilty began when she began to recover from the injuries he inflicted.

Cassandra McDermott
Cassandra McDermott was killed in her mother's home

Det Insp Brian McClusky, who led the investigation into the attack on Miss Hoyte said: "Celaire has demonstrated time and again that he is a man with a short fuse and a propensity for violence against women.

"It is tragic that he has ruined the life of Cassandra's family and left Kara with severe injuries that will impact on the rest of her life.

"Kara has shown remarkable strength and determination to be able and willing to give evidence against Celaire and it is this that will ensure Celaire receives a considerable prison sentence."

Miss McDermott's sister Andrea spoke outside court after Celaire pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempted murder.

She said: "We knew Mario killed Cassie. Today we have been vindicated. We have had to wait eight years for it - eight years of hell."

Miss McDermott's mother Jennifer said: "It is a victory for everyone who feels that they have been let down by the justice system.

"This double jeopardy will give people the chance to say, 'We can go back and fight again, we won't give up.'"

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