Belfast Telegraph

Family 'ask for mercy' for Belfast doctor who beat his mum to death

Warning: Some readers may find details in this report distressing.

Declan O'Neill and his mum Anne
Declan O'Neill and his mum Anne

By Ashleigh McDonald

A doctor who beat his mother to death in a brutal early morning attack told police "I didn't mean to, I just couldn't take any more", a court heard on Friday.

Declan O'Neill has already been handed a life sentence after he admitted arming himself with a chisel and killing his 51-year old mother Anne on the morning of Saturday October 21, 2017. 

As details surrounding the murder emerged in court for the first time, Mr Justice Colton was told that both the deceased's daughter and mother have asked for mercy for the 29-year old defendant.

Both women - the sister and grandmother of O'Neill - described how the now deceased Anne O'Neill had a very controlling personality, and how O'Neill and his sister grew up with an abusive and bullying mother in a home which had no beds, bare walls and very little furniture.

It also emerged that throughout his childhood and into adult life O'Neill was subjected to "relentless emotional abuse by his mother" and also suffered manipulation, intimidation, bullying and threats by her.

O'Neill, from Malone Avenue in Belfast, shook and wept throughout today's proceedings at Belfast Crown Court.

After listening to detailed submissions from both the Crown and defence, Mr Justice Colton said he wanted to take time to reflect on what he heard, and would set the minimum tariff O'Neill has to serve before he is considered eligible for release in a fortnight.

Before this, Mr Justice Colton heard that on the morning of her death, Mrs O'Neill had staying overnight at her parents home at Ardmore Avenue in Finaghy.

Crown barrister Neil Connor QC said she was murdered some time between 6am and 7am, and that around that time neighbours in the quiet street were woken by the sound of banging in a garden.

The neighbours also reported hearing raised voices, a woman saying "leave me alone Declan" and "somebody help me" then crying and screaming. Police were alerted at 6.58am and they arrived at the scene 19 minutes later.

PSNI forensic expert at the house where Ms O'Neill was found dead in 2017
PSNI forensic expert at the house where Ms O'Neill was found dead in 2017

Mr Connor said the first officer who arrived at the garden found Mrs O'Neill lying face down at the bottom of some steps leading to a terraced area. Also at the scene was "copious amounts of blood" as well as hair and two of her teeth.

Medical assistance was given at the scene and Mrs O'Neill was pronounced dead at 7.50am. A post mortem carried out on October 22, 2017 concluded that the cause of death was due to a bleed to the brain with multiple fractures to her skull.

Saying death was "rapid but not immediate" and was due to multiple blows to the head, pathologist Prof Jack Crane concluded: "This woman died as a result of injuries sustained in an assault.

"She had been struck repeatedly on the head with a heavy blunt object and the back of her head had been pummelled against the edge of the tiles steps, and her face had been thrust against a hard, uneven surface such as the concrete path or patio."

Just after 8.30am, police called to the defendant's home. He said he had been in bed with his partner and told officers the last time he saw his mother was the night before.

O'Neill was arrested on suspicion of murdering his mother and was taken to Musgrave Street where he was interviewed 19 times.

Killer: Declan Kevin O’Neill
Killer: Declan Kevin O’Neill

He denied killing his mother until the 14th interview, when he broke down and said: "I didn't mean to, I just couldn't take any more.

"You don't know what it's like. Every day thousands of pounds debt in my name. She keeps taking more money off me. Wants all my time. We (he and his partner) are not allowed any time together."

Following forensic examinations, it emerged that Mrs O'Neill's blood was located his Ford Fiesta - and O'Neill was also captured on CCTV at a Spar on the Malone Road buying a top-up card for a mobile which was later found at his home.

Also located at his flat were other items stained with his mother's blood, including a rubber face mask, a metal chisel, shoes and gloves.

Describing the killing as "brutal", Mr Connor said Mrs O'Neill was vulnerable due to a physical impairment, and also spoke of pre-planning on her son's part.

Pointing out O'Neill "armed himself with a chisel" and also had a mask and gloves at the scene, the prosecutor said it was accepted Mrs O'Neill had an "extremely controlling personality" which had an effect on her son "and others."

Mr Connor concluded the Crown case describing O'Neill as "a man of previous good character", and added "it goes without saying that he had no previous convictions."

Defence barrister Greg Berry QC told Mr Justice Colton that four medical assessments conducted on O'Neill concluded that in October 2017 he was suffering from a depressive disorder.

Mr Berry also said his client was "struggling to come to terms with the consequences of his actions" and that he missed his mother.

Regarding Mrs O'Neill, Mr Berry said that both her daughter and mother had prepared statements and both stated she was a controlling woman whose behaviour had an impact on her children. Both women also pleaded for mercy for the defendant.

While Mrs O'Neill's mother said in her statement it was her belief her grandson didn't intend to murder his mother and that his "mind must have just snapped", the defendant's sister said: "I do accept Declan has done wrong and he had no right to kill my mother, but I have no anger or resentment towards him."

Saying the two children "lived in almost third world conditions" including sleeping on mattresses and keeping their possessions in cardboard boxes, Mr Berry said as youngsters they were not allowed to have any friends.

He also revealed that when O'Neill went to work in his role as a doctor, his mother would phone the hospital up to 15 times per shift.

Mr Berry told the court: "This is a man with no record and with a good working history - but essentially at the time of this offence, a man who was at the limit, if not beyond the limits, of mental endurance."

Citing the case as "unique", Mr Justice Colton said he would set the minimum term O'Neill has to serve in jail on Thursday November 4th. He then remanded O'Neill back into custody.

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