Page last updated at 18:46 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Belfast pair given life for the murder of Thomas Devlin

Nigel Brown, 26, and Gary Taylor, 23, were found guilty of murder
Nigel Brown, 26, and Gary Taylor, 23, were found guilty of murder

Two Belfast men have been jailed for life for the murder of teenager Thomas Devlin in August 2005.

Nigel Brown, 26, of Whitewell Road, and Gary Taylor, 23, from Mountcollyer Avenue, had denied killing Thomas, 15, who was stabbed on Somerton Road.

Thomas's mother Penny Holloway described him as a "kind and generous, much loved son and brother with a great sense of humour".

The jury took one hour and 25 minutes to reach their verdict.

Brown had already pleaded guilty to attempting to cause grievous bodily harm to Thomas's friend Jonathan McKee.

Standing alongside Thomas's father Jim Devlin outside Belfast Crown Court on Wednesday, Mrs Holloway said the trial had been a "very difficult" experience.

She said: "Thomas could make fun out of doing nothing. On the night that he was killed he was with his friends walking home believing that he was safe - he had no reason to believe otherwise.

She continued: "Gary Taylor killed Thomas but we still have no idea why and we probably will never know.

"However, what we do know is that Thomas was brutally murdered and he has been deprived of living his life to his full potential.

"Thomas is in our thoughts every day. We all miss him very much and whilst this trial brings his killers to their rightful place in prison, we would much prefer to have Thomas alive."

She said the trial, which she and her husband had attended every single day, was "very difficult" to listen to, particularly when there was evidence from the pathologist about her son's injuries.

Mr Justice McLaughlin told Belfast Crown Court the murder of the Catholic schoolboy, who had been on his way home from buying sweets, "was a murder which completely shocked this entire community, but especially the community of north Belfast".

He added that Thomas and two friends with him "were attacked without any reason or provocation whatever".


Jim Devlin and Penny Holloway, Thomas's parents, spoke to the BBC after the verdict was delivered.

They were, he added, "three perfectly innocent young men", and that "one of them was killed, one was injured, and the two survivors, no doubt severely traumatised".

Then, turning to address Taylor directly, the judge said: "It is plain that you Gary Taylor were the principal, you are the killer".

He told Taylor he could "shake your head all you like, but this county with its democratic system and system for fair trials, has heard all of the evidence, considered all of the facts and has determined your guilt".

At this stage Taylor shouted: "Suspicion does not prove guilt".

However, ignoring the outburst, Mr Justice McLaughlin told him: "You thought you had got away with it, but you have been convicted and you will pay a heavy price for what you did on the Somerton Road.

"You will go to prison for life. And you will have a tariff fixed. It will be a very lengthy tariff you can be sure," warned the judge.

Turning to Brown, the judge told him he had played a "secondary" role.

Jailing him for life, he added that his "conviction demonstrates that those who engage in violence willingly must take full responsibility, not just for what they do themselves, but for the actions of others that they go about with and with whom they act in concert".


Thomas Devlin
Thomas Devlin died after being stabbed in north Belfast

The jury accepted the prosecution case that Brown and Taylor had acted as "a team" in the attack during which Thomas was fatally stabbed nine times.

It rejected defence arguments that the prosecution case against Brown was simply a "jigsaw puzzle cut up with scissors" while against Taylor it amounted to nothing more than a "fairytale - grim fairytales".

During their five week trial, the court heard that Brown confessed to his stepfather that he had been involved in an argument with the three teenage friends and saw Taylor stab the schoolboy "in a frenzy".

But Brown also claimed that when they both left their then homes in Ross House in the loyalist Mount Vernon flats complex to walk a dog, he had no idea that Taylor had armed himself with a knife.

However a prosecution lawyer maintained that their intentions that night were "crystal clear", to find "soft targets" after going out together "tooled up".

The lawyer had also claimed that Brown's admission to being at the scene was little more than "a damage limitation exercise", whilst Taylor's supposed alibi of being elsewhere smoking cannabis with friends had "melted away like the snow."

It was carried out by two individuals who have no regard for the sanctity of human life
Detective Chief Superintendent Tim Hanley

Praising the verdicts, Detective Chief Superintendent Tim Hanley, who headed the investigation into the murder branded his killers as "evil".

He said the Devlin family had "endured the pain and suffering of waking up each day for the past four and a half years without their son and brother and have borne this trauma with great dignity.

"Hopefully these verdicts will help ease their pain," he added.

The police officer went on to describe Thomas's brutal stabbing as "a savage attack on a schoolboy who'd gone out with some friends to buy sweets at a local shop on a summer's night."

He added: "It was carried out by two evil individuals who have no regard for the sanctity of human life or the rule of law."

Detective Superintendent Hanley that he wished to thank "the community, all sides of the community, for working with the police and for standing up and giving evidence".

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