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Boxing trainer Pete Taylor ran towards gunman who fired into Bray Boxing Club, murder trial hears

Gerard Cervi is accused of murder and two counts of attempted murder.

Forensic experts at the scene of a shooting incident at Bray Boxing Club in Co. Wicklow, 5 June 2018.
Forensic experts at the scene of a shooting incident at Bray Boxing Club in Co. Wicklow, 5 June 2018.
Image: RollingNews.ie

BOXING TRAINER PETE Taylor ran towards a gunman to protect the members of his fitness class as the attacker opened fire, eyewitnesses have told a murder trial jury.

Gym goer Stephen Kearns said Taylor ran towards the gunman in Bray Boxing Club and “put his elbow up” before falling over a bench and dropping to the ground. He said that as Taylor was running, the gunman was “firing” towards the boxing coach.

Ian Britton, who was shot in the hip area during the exercise class organised by Taylor, gave evidence today that he had pulled his leg up to protect himself before he felt “a fierce pain” in his hip area.

The court also heard from another eyewitness, who said that the gunman looked like he didn’t know what he was doing when he fired shots into the boxing club where Bobby Messett was murdered.

Gerard Cervi (34), from the East Wall area in Dublin 3 has pleaded not guilty to murdering Messett (50) at Bray Boxing Club, Bray Harbour, Bray, Co Wicklow on 5 June 2018. He also denies the attempted murder of boxing coach Taylor and Ian Britton on the same occasion.

Britton told prosecuting counsel Paul Murray SC today that he was taking part in the fitness class on the first floor with his two brothers Matt and Craig, when he noticed a figure at the entrance door with his back turned to him.

When the gunman turned around to face the room, Messett saw that he was dressed in a navy tracksuit, a yellow high-vis jacket and a hard hat. He said the man had a gun in his hand and moved the weapon towards Messett before he shot.

Britton said he was “in shock” and grabbed his brother Matt onto the floor and pulled his leg up to protect himself.

He said he didn’t get “100 percent down on the ground” as he was stuck behind a bench. He said he then felt “a fierce pain” in his hip area and down his right side. He said the shots were so loud that he could not recall how many he heard.

He said there had been a pause after the first shot as the gunman scanned the room. He said the pause felt like “it lasted forever” but it was maybe five or ten seconds long. 

Britton said Taylor then “ran” towards the shooter “to protect the people in the gym and then shots went off”. Britton said he was on the ground at the time and was looking back to see what the shooter was doing.

He said he didn’t see the gunman leave the gym and had ran into Taylor’s office. “I had to step over Bobby and Pete was on the ground, lying flat out,” he said, adding that another class participant Eddie McCann had carried him down the stairs.

In cross-examination, Britton agreed with defence counsel Cathal McGreal BL that he had told gardaiíin his statement that the shooter’s hat was a motorbike helmet. He said the gunman was maybe inside the room by more than six inches.

In re-examination, Britton agreed with Murray that he had said in his statement that the man was wearing a motorbike helmet or a builder’s helmet.

McCann, who was also taking part in the fitness class, told the jury that he saw Ian Britton slouched over and sitting on a wall outside the gym after he was shot.

The witness said he got Ian’s brother Craig Britton to elevate Ian’s leg and he [Mr McCann] applied pressure on it with a towel.

The witness said that he informed a doctor who arrived on the scene that he was a firefighter.

“I said there was one dead upstairs, one with a chest wound and this guy had got shot in the leg,” he recalled.

One of the paramedics that McCann knew put him into an ambulance as he thought he was hit.

“He said ‘Jesus Eddie, you have nine lives’. I’ve worked with him over the years. He remembered me from when the firemen were killed in Wicklow and I was on that,” remarked McCann.

The witness said there was blood on his head, that his own heart rate was up and he had got chest pains on the way to St Vincent’s Hospital.

“I could smell the cordite from the gun and I remember describing the gun,” he added.

Referring to the gun which the shooter was pointing in the doorway of the gym, McCann said it was tapered and small and the ridge along the barrel was “fixed in my mind”.

When he arrived at the hospital, the witness said a nurse got quite nervous when she examined his head and asked for armed gardaí to come as “they were afraid something might happen”.

“Ian came in on a trolley and I held his hand and said ‘you alright mate’,” he recalled.

McCann said he called the fire brigade and told them he would not be on that day. “Because of what happened I never went back to the fire brigade,” he said.

The witness said the shooter had been standing in the frame of the door into the gym when he first saw him and it looked “like he was scanning” the room. He said the gunman took one step into the gym, focused on Messett, stopped and leant back.

“I saw the muzzle and the blood,” he said.

McCann said he thought the gunman was wearing an RSA high-vis jacket as he remembered a red mark or square on the back of it.

“I remember on the yellow hard hat there was a white Battenburg stripe which was kind of unusual,” he said.

Standing up in the witness box and pointing his fingers into the shape of a gun, McCann said the shooter held the gun with both of his hands and had his arms raised.

“It was probably seconds but seemed like an eternity. It looked like he didn’t know what he was doing and then he focused on Bobby and went like that,” he said.

McCann said he was terrified when the shots were fired, that the noise was horrendous and he saw the muzzle “flash”.

“It was so surreal what happened, automatically I hit the floor. When he shot Bobby there was a pause and then bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,” he said.

Describing the gunman to the jury, McCann said he was a slender man, not very tall and around five foot eight or nine in height.

He agreed that he had told gardaí in his statement that he was small, skinny, and seemed very slight.

“Was he a man, was he a young lad; he hadn’t filled out yet that’s the description I gave,” he said.

McCann said he could see the man’s mouth around the balaclava so he knew he was white Caucasian.

Under cross-examination, defence counsel McGreal put it to McCann that he had called the gunman “a young lad who hadn’t filled out yet”.

“He was slight,” replied the witness.

When asked about his impression that the gunman didn’t know what he was doing, McCann said that was his “personal impression”.

McGreal then asked was this impression something that he had formed since the event.

“Since it happened, yes, it was like there was a pause. As far as I can remember there was movement and then he stopped and then he pulled the trigger. I’ve no experience in that but it looked like it to me, ‘what am I doing, I better do something,” remarked the witness.

When asked by the defence counsel if he had spoken to other witnesses about his recollection of that morning, McCann said he had met some of the class participants about six weeks after the incident for a beer and a chat “to see what happened”.

The witness said he thought he remembered saying to the group that it was like the gunman “didn’t know what he was doing and just stood there”.

“I always remember saying to the people there that he didn’t know what he was doing, I better do something [sic],” he concluded.

Matt Britton said he saw a person standing at the door with his legs wide apart and a gun between them. “He then brought the gun up and scanned around the room”, he said. Mr Britton said he heard a shot and dived on the ground for 30 seconds and then heard another ten shots approximately, which were quite loud.

“When it went quiet, I lifted my head and the first thing I saw was Bobby in the chair,” he said.

He said there was ten seconds between seeing the man and the first shot.

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“At the start I thought someone was playing a prank until I heard the first shot. I just heard a bang and I just pretended to be dead and didn’t lift my head until it was silent,” he continued.

A third brother, Craig Britton, said he chatted to Messett that morning, who told him that he had finished 7th and 4th in two bike races at the weekend.

Britton said that he then went to pick up some dumbbells when he heard the first bang over his shoulder. The witness said he initially thought the air compressor machine had blown up as the bang was so loud.

He said he looked over his left shoulder towards where the noise was coming from and remembered looking at Messett, He said his eyes were rolling back in his head and his hands went up.

Britton said the entire incident lasted no more than 15 seconds. He said he told McCann that there was a pulse in Messett’s neck but the firefighter said he was gone. He said he didn’t take his water bottle because it was surrounded by Messett’s blood.

Another gym goer, Stephen Kearns, said he looked up at the door to see a man standing in the doorway wearing a high-vis jacket and holding a handgun with his arms out straight.

He said he went to the ground to take cover and looked over to see Taylor running towards the gunman.

“He ran towards the gunman, and he put his elbow up and fell over the bench and dropped to the ground.”

Kearns said that as Taylor was running, the gunman was firing towards the boxing coach. “I thought he was going to shoot us all,” he added.

Following the shooting, he said Taylor was sitting down with his back up against the wall holding his elbow.

Under cross-examination from McGreal, the witness said that he met up with a number of other witnesses at a later date.

He said he went for counselling and was advised to “keep talking about it instead of trying to keep it in.”

The statement of a 16-year-old schoolgirl who went to the fitness class with her father was read into the record today by Murray.

She said she was getting ready to start training when she heard a bang which gave her a fright and “jolted” her.

The teenager said that a woman in the class motioned at her to get down onto the ground, where she heard about six more loud piercing sounds and she didn’t know what was going on.

“I remember bracing myself to be shot”, she said, adding that everything went quiet after a few seconds.

She said she screamed for her father and found him across the room beside Taylor in an alcove. She said Messett was on the floor, leaning against a machine with blood on his head and his eyes closed and Taylor had blood on his shoulder.

The teenager said that as she was leaving the gym she saw around three or four bullet shells at the top of the stairs.

She said she rang her mother at 6.54am to tell her about the incident, and that a lot of people had gathered outside of the gym to see what had happened.

The trial continues on Monday before Mr Justice Michael White and a jury of three men and nine women.

In his opening address, Murray said that a “lone gunman” walked into Bray Boxing Club before 7am on June 5 and fired nine shots from a semi automatic pistol “in quick succession” in “varying directions” in the confined place, leaving one man dead and two other men injured.

Messett was fatally shot in the head during the exercise class and the organiser of the class Taylor and class participant Britton were shot in the bodies and survived.

It is the State’s case that Cervi was the gunman and that he intended to commit murder that day.

Murray said in his opening that if a person makes a mistake, or kills the wrong person, it is still murder if there was intent to kill a person.

About the author:

Alison O'Riordan

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