Local footballer in a critical condition

The courthouse at Bishop Street, Derry.
The courthouse at Bishop Street, Derry.

A local footballer who was assaulted in the city centre remains in a ‘critical but stable’ condition, a court has heard.

Niall Grace, who plays for Institute Football Club, remains in a medically induced coma in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.

Derry Magistrate’s Court heard he had emergency surgery to reduce swelling to the brain.

Matthew McDermott, of Cornshell Fields, is charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Mr Grace.

He is further charged with possessing a class A drug namely ecstasy.

The charges relate to an alleged incident in the early hours of September 11.

During a brief hearing, the 22-year-old spoke only to confirm he understood the charges. The court heard allegations this was a ‘one-punch attack’ and McDermott and Mr Grace did not know each other.

CCTV operators alerted police to an assault in Waterloo Street shortly before 1am.

Mr Grace was conscious and breathing whist receiving treatment from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service at the scene.

However, the court heard his condition deteriorated when he arrived at hospital.

The CCTV operators tracked McDermott’s movements and he was arrested a short distance away.

The court heard allegations that the 22-year-old provoked Mr Grace and police believe he was ‘looking for a fight’.

Both men allegedly threw a punch towards each other before falling to the ground.

The officer confirmed it is believed the substantive injuries sustained by Mr Grace were caused by this fall.

Opposing bail, an investigating officer said police fear McDermott will commit further offences or interfere with witnesses.

He added that police have concerns about the 22-year-old’s safety due to the ‘public reaction to this incident’.

Defence counsel Nicola Coulter said: “This is clearly a devastating incident for everyone concerned. The defendant can barely comprehend where he has ended up this morning and his concern is for the well being of injured party.”

Ms Coulter told the court the 22-year-old had been out with his brother and there was an altercation between his brother and Mr Grace inside a bar.

She said this altercation was captured on CCTV and involved Mr Grace grabbing McDermott and his brother by the neck.

The barrister told the court her client is a young man with a stable lifestyle who is currently in employment and has no criminal record.

She said there is no basis to believe that McDermott would interfere with witnesses or commit further offences.

District Judge Peter King refused bail stating the application was ‘premature’.

‘The treatment of the injured party is at a very early stage. We all know the dangers of one punch assaults and the potentially devastating consequences.’

He added that he has significant concerns about the safety issues raised by police.

McDermott was remanded in custody to appear in court again via videolink on September 22.