A Co Antrim father of one convicted by a jury of attacking a doorman with a machete in the middle of Ballyclare was handed a seven-year prison term.
Sentencing Simon Elser, Judge Patricia Smyth told the 27-year old he carried out an “unprovoked attack” on a defenceless man, and would spent half his sentence in prison, with the remainder spent on licence upon his release.
From Waterfall Road in Carnlough, Esler attacked the doorman with the machete outside the former premises of Ballyclare Sports and Social Club, situated on The Square, on June 20, 2015.
Despite initially denying involvement, Esler later claimed he carried out the attack as he believed the doorman was involved in a previous incident at his house, during which his pregnant partner had a gun held to her stomach.
Judge Smyth told the court that the attack has had an impact both physically and mentally on the victim, who she said had “suffered a great deal” after being repeatedly slashed with the weapon.
During sentencing, Judge Smyth revealed she accepted Esler’s remorse and regret was genuine.
Addressing Esler, she spoke of the impact his jail term will have on his partner and young child.
Judge Smyth said: “On one hand this was a very serious attack with a very serious weapon. On the other hand, you have no history of serious violence or threatening serious violence, you have a good employment history and a stable family life.”
During a five-day trial held last December, Esler denied that he was the attacker.
However, the jury of seven women and five men took several hours to reach unanimous ‘guilty’ verdicts of wounding the doorman with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm, and of possessing an offensive weapon in a public place.
The injured man was slashed up to four times and sustained wounds to his arm, abdomen and thigh, as well as an undisplaced fracture to his forearm.
The jury heard he was attacked by Esler, who got out of his blue Volkwagen Passat brandishing a long-bladed weapon and who shouted “you were in my house and you pointed a gun at my pregnant wife” before lashing out with the machete. The doorman later identified Esler at the man who attacked him.
The jury also heard that an entertainer who had been performing in the club that night was outside having a smoke. He saw the incident and noted the Passat’s registration. When he later gave this to police, he told officers he wasn’t sure he recalled it correctly and may have got some of the digits muddled up.
When police checked the number he gave them, it was not registered to any vehicle. However, when police switched two of the numbers around, they discovered the plate was registered to a blue Passat belonging to Esler. The vehicle was later recovered by officers parked up at outbuildings a short distance from his mother’s house.
Esler - who came before the court with ten previous convictions on his criminal record - consistently denied attacking the doorman and claimed to know nothing about it. He maintained this position throughout the trial, but his denials were rejected by the jury, who convicted him on both charges.
During the trial, the jury heard that eight months before the machete attack, Esler went to the PSNI to report a home invasion. In a statement made to police, Esler and his partner, who was pregnant at the time, said masked men had forced their way into their home and that a gun was pointed at her.
Prior to sentencing Esler, Judge Smyth was informed that despite his denials both to police during interview and throughout the trial, he now accepts full responsibility for what he did in June 2015 and has shown both victim empathy and remorse for his actions.
Esler told a probation officer the incident was not premeditated, that he had the machete in the back of his car to cut briars and that he “just happened” to see the doorman on the evening in question.
Defence barrister Richard McConkey, representing Esler, pointed out his client believed the doorman was linked to a previous incident during which a gun was held to his pregnant partner’s stomach. He added Esler has since accepted responsibility and is ashamed by what he did.