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Relatives of Darren O’Neill disgusted by one-punch killer’s sentence

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Darren O’Neill died two days after being struck on the face in June 2019

Darren O’Neill died two days after being struck on the face in June 2019

Darren O’Neill died two days after being struck on the face in June 2019

The family of a 22-year-old man who died after being punched during a day out at Tyrella Beach have said they are “disgusted” by the sentence handed to his killer on Friday.

Darren O’Neill passed away in hospital on June 29, 2019, two days after he was punched by Joseph Dorrian in a car park at the Co Down beach.

Dorrian (23), with an address at Lakeview in Crumlin, was handed a three-year sentence for manslaughter at Downpatrick Crown Court.

Judge Geoffrey Miller QC told the defendant he would serve 18 months of the sentence in jail and the remainder on licence.

As Dorrian was being led from the dock, police officers were forced to intervene to stop a confrontation in the public gallery between members of his family and relatives of Mr O’Neill, who wore T-shirts bearing his picture.

While the O’Neill family declined to make a formal statement to the media, one member said they were “disgusted” by the sentence and rubbished claims the pair were “best friends”.

Dorrian admitted causing Mr O’Neill’s death but denied a charge of manslaughter, claiming he reacted in self-defence after being struck first.

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After a seven-day hearing, the jury rejected his version of events and returned a unanimous guilty verdict.

Sentencing the defendant, Judge Geoffrey Miller said that no jail term could make up for the loss of a life.

Dorrian and Mr O’Neill, both originally from Turf Lodge in west Belfast, clashed after travelling to the beach with two female friends.

Onlookers described the group as being in high spirits on the hottest day of the year.

Mr O’Neill and Dorrian went swimming in the sea, but trouble arose after Mr O’Neill, who was under the influence of alcohol and pregabalin at the time, got behind the wheel of a jeep in a car park and drove it recklessly.

Several witnesses later told the jury they saw Dorrian approach the vehicle when it came to a standstill and angrily confront Mr O’Neill before landing the killer blow.

A pathologist said the force of the punch to the victim’s jaw caused a tear in an internal artery that carries blood to the brain, which led to a bleed on the brain and a cardiac arrest.

Judge Miller said that while he accepted Dorrian did not follow this with a “further assault”, the degree of force in the fatal blow was “not insignificant”.

He stressed that the defendant had not acted not act in self-defence and added: “A young life has been lost as a result of Joseph Dorrian’s actions.”

The court heard that Mr O’Neill’s death had a devastating effect on his family, particularly his mother, who is still battling “profound grief”.

The victim’s sister, Nikita, described him as “a great big brother” and a “bubbly, easy-going joker” who loved to fix things.

Judge Miller said: “The love and closeness felt towards Darren by the whole family is palpable from the documents placed before me, and with that comes the pain of his loss.

“Nothing that this court can do or say can reduce that level of hurt and pain, and I wish to put on record my heartfelt sympathy to the entire family.”

The court was told the defendant suffered from mental issues stemming from several traumatic events in his past, including his parents sustaining “life-changing” injuries when they were shot in a paramilitary attack when he was 19.

The judge also revealed Dorrian had become reclusive since Mr O’Neill’s death, with his brother saying: “He is not the happy young man he used to be.”

A report on the defendant said he had been “deeply affected” by Mr O’Neill’s death, that he “feels guilty” about what happened and feels he “is not deserving of any enjoyment in life”.

Judge Miller concluded: “There can be no doubt that the last thing any of the four young people who travelled down to the coast that afternoon either expected or intended was that it would end so tragically.”

While the O’Neill family declined to make a formal statement to the media, one member said they were “disgusted” by the sentence and rubbished claims the pair were “best friends”.

Belfast Telegraph


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