A BEECHMOUNT pensioner who died after trying to prevent a thief from fleeing a robbery at his local corner shop was suffering from severe heart difficulties at the time of his death, a court has heard.

21-year-old Darren Valliday-Smyth, of no fixed abode, appeared before Laganside Magistrates Court on Friday, October 21, charged with the manslaughter of 75-year-old Sammy Crawford, a married father-of-one, on November 1 last year.

Mr Crawford had attempted to prevent Valliday-Smyth from fleeing a robbery at McGovern’s shop in Cavendish Street using his waking stick.  However, after an altercation ensued between the two men, Mr Crawford collapsed with a suspected heart attack and died two days later in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

At a preliminary court hearing last week to determine if Valliday-Smyth should stand trial on the charge of manslaughter, the court heard how the defendant had been staying at his parents’ house the night before the attack.

“When he woke up the next morning he took a number of prescription drugs before leaving the house,” his defence solicitor said.

The court was also shown CCTV footage of the robbery on McGovern’s shop, during which Valliday-Smyth, with a black hat pulled down over his face, is seen spraying CS gas at the head of shop assistant Maria Wilson as a 10-year-old girl who was a customer at the store stood right beside him.

“She [Ms Wilson] said she was affected immediately and as she moved away from the till she told the young girl to go to the back of the shop,” the prosecution said.

Valliday-Smyth is then seen climbing over the counter and attempting to lift the till from its enclosure. He is then seen climbing back over the counter and making his way to the front door where Mr Crawford appears with a walking stick and tries to strike him, dislodging the defendant’s hat.

“During that stage of events the defendant reaches to his right-hand side for the (CS) canister and sprays it again,” the prosecuting solicitor told the court.

“A female identified as the mother of the girl hiding at the back of the shop then takes the stick off Mr Crawford and she hits the defendant.  He [Valliday-Smyth] leaves the till, stands up and goes to walk outside in an aggressive manner. Quite a large amount of ‘civilians’ are outside by this stage.”

The court was told that Valliday-Smyth then left the shop and engages in a struggle with the late Mr Crawford and his son Gerard who had by then arrived on the scene.

The court is told that Mr Crawford slumps to the ground after which Valliday makes off down the street. A nurse at the scene of the incident provided CPR to Mr Crawford who was “having heart difficulties” before a cardiac ambulance arrives to take him to the Royal Victoria Hospital.

“His life support system was tuned off two days later,” said the solicitor for the prosecution.

“The pathologists report [into Mr Crawford’s death] says that the deceased suffered from heart difficulties and that his death was due to natural causes,” he added.

“He had heart disease of such severity that sudden death could have occurred at anytime.  However, it is highly likely that the incident brought about the heart attack. Had the incident not taken  place then there would not have been a death.”

However, the solicitor for the defence stated that the charge of manslaughter against Valliday-Smyth was “an area of great complexity”.

“It is quite clear [from the pathologist’s report] that Mr Crawford had quite considerable problems with his heart,” he said.

“There were no marks of violence found on his body.  It is not right to say that but for this incident the death would not have occurred.

“There must be sufficient evidence for the jury to convict and from the prosecution it appears  there does not appear to be,” he added.

The hearing was then adjourned until Friday, November 4, when Valliday-Smyth, who was remanded in custody, will appear again before Laganside Magistrates Court.