Belfast Crown Court: Three men sentenced in connection with ‘single-punch’ manslaughter case

A 22-year-old man has been given a six-year sentence for the “single-punch” manslaughter of a vulnerable man in Newcastle, County Down.

Mr Justice Adrian Colton followed the sentencing guidelines in R v Quinn. Two other men who witnessed the incident were sentenced for related offences, including perverting the course of justice by giving false statements to police, and staging “a self-defence scenario”.


On 8 December 2018, 29-year-old Padraig Fox was found dead in a flat in Newcastle, County Down. The Court heard that Padraig was a vulnerable adult, who was living independently at his own request, and had only recently moved into the block of flats where he was found.

The Court heard that Padraig had spent the previous night with 22-year-old Donach Rice, 21-year-old Nathan Rice, 28-year-old Paul Magennis and Jim Crilly – all of whom were said to have “consumed alcohol, ‘acid’ and cannabis throughout the evening”. At around 8am on the morning of 8 December, the Rices and Mr Magennis left the flat to buy vodka, and when they returned a short time later, there was an altercation between Donach Rice and Padraig.

Donach Rice punched Padraig “once to the head causing him to fall to the kitchen floor which caused a bleed to his brain and fractured skull”. Nathan Rice and Jim Crilly “panicked and left the scene”, leaving Donach Rice and Mr Magennis who proceeded to stage “a self-defence scenario” by cutting themselves and placing a machete under Padraig’s arm. None of the men sought medical assistance for Padraig.

The Court heard that the self-defence scenario caused some confusion, but was not really taken seriously by the police and did not significantly delay the investigation. In his initial statement to police, Nathan Rice made a false statement that it was Mr Magennis who inflicted the fatal punch. Consequently, Mr Magennis was arrested as a murder suspect and interviewed between 9 and 11 December 2018 when Donach Rice admitted his guilt.

Donach Rice

Donach Rice pleaded guilty to:

  • Manslaughter;
  • Perverting the course of justice for accusing Paul Magennis of inflicting the fatal blow;
  • Fraud by false representation for cashing in a £7.60 betting slip belonging to Padraig after the incident;
  • Burglary at the Slieve Donard Hotel to steal three bottles of alcohol (with Nathan Rice);
  • Perverting the course of justice for the “self-defence scenario” (with Paul Magennis);
  • Common assault for assaulting an elderly man at an ATM after the incident (with Paul Magennis).

Considering the sentencing principles for manslaughter, Mr Justice Colton explained that the guideline case in Northern Ireland for “single punch” cases is R v Quinn [2006] NICA 27. In Quinn, the NI Court of Appeal decided not to follow the English guideline cases, which proposed a starting point of one years’ imprisonment, deciding that a more suitable starting point in this jurisdiction for this type of offence was two years’ imprisonment, rising to six years where there were significant aggravating factors.

In Quinn, the Court said it was “a common experience that serious assaults involving young men leading to grave injury and, far too often, death occur after offenders and victims have been drinking heavily. The courts must respond to this experience by the imposition of penalties not only for the purpose of deterrence but also to mark our society’s abhorrence and rejection of this phenomenon”.

Mr Justice Colton said he would have imposed a sentence of eight years’ imprisonment if Donach Rice contested the charges, but giving credit for the plea, he proposed to reduce the sentence to six years.

Under Article 8(3) of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008, the custodial period shall not exceed one half of the term of the sentence – therefore Donach Rice will serve three years in custody and three years on licence. Mr Justice Colton decided that the sentences imposed for the other offences should run concurrently.

Nathan Rice

Nathan Rice pleaded guilty to burglary at the Slieve Donard Hotel, and perverting the course of justice for falsely stating to police that Paul Magennis inflicted the fatal blow.

Stating that Nathan Rice was entitled to substantial credit for pleading guilty, Mr Justice Colton said a custodial sentence would be the ordinary course for such serious offences. Nathan Rice also had a history of criminal offending with 19 previous convictions. However, Mr Justice Colton said it was appropriate to take an alternative view given that Nathan Rice was engaging fully with probation and in community service.

Mr Justice Colton said “…it would be futile and wrong in principle having regard to your personal background and the circumstances of this offence to interfere with that work and impose a custodial sentence on you. In my view the appropriate course is to impose a Combination Order … so that you can make some reparation to the community for your offending but also because you need to continue probation supervision to reduce the risk of reoffending in the future. Such an Order is in the interests of securing your rehabilitation and protecting the public from harm from you or preventing the commission by you of further offences”.

In those circumstances, Mr Justice Colton imposed a Probation Order of one year combined with a Community Service Order of 40 hours.

Paul Magennis

Paul Magennis pleaded guilty to two counts of perverting the course of justice (for the “self-defence scenario” and his dishonest account of events to police), and common assault.

Stating that Paul Magennis was entitled to significant credit for pleading guilty, Mr Justice Colton said he would have imposed a sentence of three-and-half-years imprisonment to reflect the totality of his offending. Giving credit for the plea, Mr Justice Colton imposed a two-and-a-half year sentence, half of which will be spent in custody and half on licence.

Commenting that Magennis might feel “somewhat unfortunate” in comparison with the sentence imposed on Nathan Rice, Mr Justice Colton explained that Nathan Rice had very different personal circumstances and “was not involved in the most serious aspect of the attempt to pervert the course of justice” in creating a potential self-defence scenario.

© Irish Legal News Ltd 2020

Other judgments by Judge Adrian Colton QC