Man says he stamped on uncle’s head ‘in self defence’

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A man accused of attempting to murder his uncle and inflicting permanent brain damage was acting in self-defence, a jury was told today.

• Man ‘kicked and stamped on uncle’s head in self defence’

• Court hears victim left with severe brain damage

Steven McMahon, 33, who is on trial at the High Court at Livingston, was acting under provocation when he repeatedly stamped and kicked Billy Johnston on the head, his defence counsel claimed.

It was claimed that moments before the vicious attack in Edinburgh’s Calton Road last August, Mr Johnston had threatened to kill his nephew, dump the body then murder the accused’s wife and child.

Unemployed McMahon, of Restalrig Avenue, Edinburgh, denies assaulting Mr Johnston to his severe injury, permanent impairment and danger of life and attempting to murder him.


The jury heard medical evidence that Mr Johnston had severe brain damage caused by jarring of the brain where the internal connections are disrupted. The injury, widely spread through the brain, was caused by violent impacts to the head, either by hitting the ground or being struck with force.

The former Edinburgh taxi driver was described as being in a vegetative state and is expected to die in care. He is able to open his eyes and makes a movement in response to pain.

He also tries to sit up occasionally and changes his facial expression in response to stimuli. However, although he has been moved from institution to institution, he can’t feed himself and he can’t do anything to care for himself.

The prosecution completed its evidence this morning and the defence chose not to lead any evidence from the accused.

Advocate Depute Andrew Brown QC, prosecuting, said in his closing speech that by returning to repeatedly kick and stamp on his uncle’s head a second time, Steven McMahon’s assault had gone far beyond self-defence.

‘Evil intent’

He told the jury: “He attacked Billy Johnston, he kicked him, he stamped on him, all without justification – a deliberate attack with evil intent. His intention was to cause physical injury without justification.

“In his police interview he said he was deliberately inflicting blows determined to incapacitate Billy Johnston. Whether he intended to kill Billy Johnston or didn’t care whether Billy Johnston lived or died, that comprises not just an assault but attempted murder.”

He said that when eye-witness David Hook watched the incident from his window, Mr Johnston wasn’t attacking anyone.

“He wasn’t capable of attacking anyone and that would have been plain to his attacker. In fact David Hook called the police and told them that he thought the person lying on the floor was dead.

“I’d suggest that his injuries are severe, they’re permanent and his life is in danger.”

Defence counsel Brian Gilfedder said McMahon had told police a few hours after the incident that his uncle had threatened to kill him, dump his body then go to his house and murder his wife and six kids.


He said: “It’s against that background that you must judge the actions of Steven McMahon. In my submission the threat and danger that Mr McMahon was experiencing at that time was present and imminent throughout the whole incident.

“It was only when Steven McMahon got home that he felt safe, or safer. What was done was done in hot blood where Steven McMahon lost his temper and his self control.

“It’s bad enough when someone threatens to kill you, but it’s a hundred times worse when someone threatens to kill your children. You’ll do what you have to do to defend yourself and your family.

“That’s all Steven McMahon was trying to do in the early hours of that morning. There was no wickedness in his heart or hatred of his uncle, just utter fear and terror. It was in those circumstances against that background that he did what he had to do.”

The jury retired at lunchtime and is expected to return its verdict later today.