'Beacon of Ahoghill community' receives suspended prison term for grabbing boy (15) by neck and attacking the teen's older brother with golf club

'Beacon of  Ahoghill community' receives suspended prison term for grabbing boy (15) by neck and attacking the teen's older brother with golf club

A MAN described as a "beacon" of his community in Ahoghill where, a court heard, he has been involved in civic flower planting, has been given a suspended prison term after grabbing a 15-year-old boy by the neck and then attacking the teenager's older brother with a golf club.

Stephen McCooke (53), of Ballymena Road in Ahoghill, pleaded guilty to two assaults and possessing a golf club as an offensive weapon in relation to March 1 this year.

A prosecutor said that at 5.10pm a 15-year-old was sitting on a window sill near the entrance of a NISA store in Ahoghill and after a "conversation" McCooke grabbed him by the neck and he "couldn't breathe".

The defendant tried to slap the teenager, it was said.

The boy was left with bruising to his neck in the incident which had been witnessed by a member of his family who had been driving past.

The boy's 19-year-old brother then went to the defendant's home "to ask him what happened" and McCooke came out with a golf club.

The man said he was struck up to six times on the head, shoulders and arms with the golf club.

The man grabbed the golf club, breaking it in half, and throwing it away.

A defence barrister said the defendant, who previously had a clear record, was part of the "volunteer group 'Ahoghill in Bloom'.".

The lawyer said McCooke was "fiercely proud" of the community but "unfortunately there are other individuals in taht area who have caused considerable anti-social trouble and made Mr McCooke's life a misery.

"He has been plagued by some individuals within this community on an almost daily basis".

The barrister said on the date in question the younger complainant "decided to give Mr McCooke a hard time regarding his efforts in trying to better the local area".

He said the defendant "lost his temper" and had been "goaded so much" that he grabbed the youth by the "scruff of the hoodie that he was wearing".

After that was witnessed by a family member, the boy's brother - "and he had been at the house before" - went to "remonstrate" with the defendant, the defence lawyer said.

The lawyer said the defendant was a "keen golfer" and "for his own personal safety, which he shouldn't have done, grabbed a golf club".

The court heard McCooke had insight and remorse as he had "let himself down" as he is a "beacon of the Ahoghill community".

The defence barrister added: "Very shortly thereafter this incident a number of heavily armed men came to Mr McCooke's home and he is living in fear of his own personal safety out of this incident.

"It is a terrible situation he finds himself in becasue he wants to live in Ahoghill and make it better but on a daily basis he can feel the palpable intimidation of him at present".

District Judge Nigel Broderick told the defendant: "I recognise that you are, hitherto, a man of good character. However, the  court cannnot endorse anyone taking the law into what they perceive to be their own hands.

"If you had any concerns about the victims in this case they should have been reported to the police. And they are quite young, you are 53 years of age and one of them was only 15 and the other 19.

"Irrespective of what your perceptions of what they may or may not have done in the community that does not give anyone the right to grab a child or teenager by the throat and hit somebody else with a golf club".

The judge took into account a guilty plea and clear record but said he would mark the "serious nature of the matter" with a three months prison term, suspended for one year.