Three men and a woman will be sentenced in the new year for what a court has heard described as a “depraved and sadistic” attack on a young woman who had her head dry-shaved and her hair set alight while she was unconscious.
Alister William Hamilton (23), of Drumtara, and Nathan Telford (23), of Wilson Avenue, had previously admitted charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and common assault, while Paul Joshua Balmer (42), of Crosshill View, Kells, had been convicted on the same charges following a trial.
A fourth defendant, Paula Wilson (21), admitted aiding and abetting assault occasioning actual bodily harm and aiding and abetting common assault in relation to the incident, in May of last year.
Graphic video footage and still photos, taken from Wilson’s mobile telephone were shown to a hushed Craigavon Crown Court, during which the injured party had her head shaved with disposable razors by the three male defendants before having her hair set alight. The woman was also slapped on a number of occasions.
The incident was filmed by Wilson, who at one point on the footage, was heard to say that her mobile phone battery was running out.
As the footage was played, Telford, Hamilton and Wilson sat with their heads bowed while Balmer, flanked by four prison officers in the dock, watched the footage on a large screen.
Prosecution barrister Neil Connor described the incident as “a depraved and sadistic exercise”.
He said the incident had carried on “for some period of time - maybe even into a second day” as he noted that different pieces of footage showed the victim wearing different clothes.
He said the injured party had then “been used essentially as a prop for ‘trophy’ photographs retained by Ms Wilson on her phone for their (the defendants’) amusement and entertainment.”
Defence counsel for Wilson said his client had come before the court with no previous criminal convictions but that she had developed an “infatuation” with criminal elements in the Ballymena area,
He said that Wilson in particular had been subjected to “an incredible amount of media attention” which had had “an adverse effect on her life”.
Defence counsel said Wilson’s plea of guilty “demonstrated a true sense of regret” on her part and sought extra time for additional pre-sentence reports to be compiled on her.
Defence counsel for Telford, who, the court heard, had been in “some form of relationship” with the injured party at the time, described the incident as a “motiveless, drunken, drug-stupified event” which, he said, “was not borne out of any hostility or intention to harm.”
He said that Telford suffered from a number of “psychiatric difficulties” which had been added to by his abuse of drugs.
Defence counsel for Balmer said that the events had taken place while the injured party was “comatose”, adding: “She didn’t suffer any pain and she remembers nothing of it.”
He said that Balmer had been identified in some quarters as the “ringleader” but added that the video footage clearly showed that his client had not been the person who had set light to the victim’s hair.
Defence counsel for Hamilton took exception to the prosecution’s description of the incident as “depraved and sadistic”.
“This was a ghastly and outrageous prank that went on too long and went too far. This young lady was subjected to gross and despicable indignity.”
He contended that Hamilton’s case differed from the other defendants as his client had admitted his involvement and his remorse at the outset - a view which, the prosecution agreed, had been accepted by police dealing with the investigation.
Judge Donna McColgan said that in light of the number of documents in the case still outstanding and the fact that she wanted to reflect on what she had heard, she would adjourn sentencing until January 7 at Laganside court, Belfast, with Telford, Balmer and Hamilton remanded in custody.
The judge told Wilson that the prosecution had no objection to her continuing to remain on bail but warned her that was “absolutely no indication” of what sort of sentence she may receive on that date.
As the defendants were being led from the court, a relative of one of the male defendants shouted: “Go for bail - you need home for Christmas.”