An Algerian man whose nose was bitten off by an Irish soldier in an unprovoked attack in Derry last April said it has scarred him for life.
Ali Halimi, 34, was attacked by Barry Fitzgerald, 25, on Waterloo Street on April 14, 2013.
Fitzgerald, formerly of Foxhill and whose address was given on court documents as Doire House, Drumnishear, Carrigans, Co. Donegal, pleaded guilty yesterday at Derry Crown Court to grievous bodily harm with intent.
Ali, who was a fireman in Algeria, had just moved to the city six months before the attack to live with his wife, Gena, who is from Derry.
The Derry News spoke to Ali just days after the attack last April. Ali described the vicious assault in which Fitzgerald bit off part of his nose, fractured his hands as he tried to protect himself and bit into his back through his clothes and coat as he tried to escape.
Ali had been sitting in a car outside a Waterloo Street takeaway where he had been helping his friend with deliveries.
Fitzgerald was urinating outside the business and Ali’s friend had asked him to move on before going back inside while Ali waited in the car. However, 10-15 minutes later, Fitzgerald returned.
“My friend, when he saw him do a pee at the shop, he asked him to go away but I stayed in the car and was there reading a book,” said Ali.
“I didn’t see him because I was reading the book. He opened the door and put his head and body inside the car and he said, ‘Do you know me?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know you’. Then he put his hands round my throat and said, ‘You don’t know who I am?’ then he just bit my nose.
“When he bit me, I covered my face and leaned over into the driver’s seat to protect my face and then he bit my back.”
Yesterday, after Fitzgerald’s guilty plea, Ali said that although he is happy, his life has been irrevocably changed.
“When I go out I always check if there is somebody behind me, also I get racist comments in town sometimes from people who call me ‘half-nose’; it has affected me physically and it has hurt me a lot,” he said.
“Before this happened to me, I was working in a car park and sometimes would have finished at 12am, sometimes I would come from the car park in Foyleside where I worked but not now, I don’t go out.
“I feel nervous and I don’t trust people to be honest because I’ve had bad treatment. I don’t speak to people; I only go out with my wife and daughter.”
Ali said that he had kept the attack from his family and friends in Algeria to spare them any worry, however, an Algerian journalist had picked up on his story and shared it.
Ali’s mother was visiting his sister, who was ill with a brain tumour, when she learned of the attack. When she saw and heard what had happened to her son, Ali’s mother fainted in distress.
Gena, Ali’s wife, said the attack and its aftermath have had a terrible effect on their whole life. Ali has already undergone extensive reconstructive surgery on his nose and will have to go through more surgery in the future.
“We’ve been through everything since it happened with doctors and hospitals and he won’t go anywhere on his own,” she said.
“[Fitzgerald] may have made an apology but he doesn’t know what he has put us through. Ali was to go home and see his people last October but he wouldn’t go because of his nose.
“I won tickets to Paris in February and he wouldn’t go because of his nose. He just won’t go anywhere but I can understand where he’s coming from because he feels like there are people looking at him constantly and people have made comments against him about his nose. He just doesn’t want to go out. His confidence is gone; he had the greatest confidence before this. He would have walked to the town four or five times a day now he won’t walk anywhere, he gets a taxi and that’s just not him.”
Ali said that he is very self-conscious about his appearance since the attack.
“When people see a man that is missing part of his nose, they get a shock. Many friends I work with, when they saw my nose for the first time, they got shocked.”
In Crown Court yesterday, the defence said that there had been no racially aggravating feature to the attack.
The prosecution said they accepted that 'although the defendant made a racist comment about the injured party, there is no evidence to suggest that racism was the driving force behind the assault'.
The remark made to police by Fitzgerald on the day of the attack was, 'I pulled him out of the car and bit him and I'd do it again, the foreign c***'.
Fitzgerald wept today as this was read out. However, Gena said she was not moved by Fitzgerald’s show of emotion.
“To think that he had said what was read out in court…that was disgusting,” she said.
“How could anybody say they would do that again? He doesn’t know what he has done to us, I couldn’t accept his apology. Even if he had have come to me to shake my hand, I couldn’t have done it because I would have said, ‘No, you’ve put us through a life of hell’."
Fitzgerald was released on continuing bail and ordered specifically not to enter Derry unless to attend medical or legal appointments. He has surrendered his passport and has been banned from leaving Ireland. He will appear back before Derry Crown Court on June 25 for sentencing.
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