Belfast Telegraph

Son's murder of mum 'runs against the natural order of things' - Declan O'Neill jailed for minimum eight years

Murder victim Anne O’Neill with her son Dr Declan O’Neill
Murder victim Anne O’Neill with her son Dr Declan O’Neill

By Claire McNeilly and Andrew Madden

Killer doctor Declan O'Neill has been jailed for a minimum of eight years for the brutal murder of his mother.

Retired district nurse Anne O'Neill (51) was found beaten to death in the garden of her parents' home at Ardmore Avenue in Belfast in the early hours of October 21, 2017.

Declan O'Neill had already been handed a life sentence at an earlier hearing.

Neighbours reported being awakened by banging noises and a “hysterical” female voice shouting “leave me alone Declan”.

The pathologist found that Ms O'Neill had been “struck repeatedly on the head with a heavy blunt object, the back of her head had been pummelled against the edge of the tiled steps and her face had been thrust against a hard uneven surface such as the concrete path or patio”.

Police later searched the home of Declan O'Neill (29) and found a bloodstained bag containing shoes, gloves, a metal chisel, black hat, a roll of black tape and a black rubber mask.

Ms O'Neill's blood was found on the items.

Declan O'Neill was interviewed by police about his mother's death 19 times and denied her murder until the fourteenth interview.

In September he pleaded guilty to her murder.

At Belfast Crown Court on Thursday, Declan O'Neill was sentence to eight years imprisonment - the minimum term he must serve before he is eligible for parole.

Dr Declan O'Neill who murdered his mother Anne O'Neill
Dr Declan O'Neill who murdered his mother Anne O'Neill

In passing the sentence, Mr Justice Colton said the murder was "brutal and senseless", however, there was a number of mitigating factors, such as a lifetime of "coercive, controlling behaviour" by his mother.

The judge said that, irrespective of what tariff he imposed, it was clear that O'Neill "will carry the burden of his actions for the rest of his life".

Throughout the hearing, which lasted almost an hour, the defendant sat forlornly in the dock, repeatedly wiping the tears from his eyes.

The judge said "all murders are tragic, but there is something particularly troubling about the murder of a mother by her son".

It runs against the natural order of things. Mr Justice Colton

He added: "The murder becomes stranger when one learns that the defendant is in fact, a qualified medical doctor, a profession devoted to the care of others and the protection of life."

O'Neill said his mother was very controlling and extremely abusive of him. He believed his mother hated him intensely throughout his life.

Mr Justice Colton revealed as children, O'Neill and his sister were not allowed to bring friends home, and that O'Neill made the case his mother "shamed and humiliated" him throughout his life.

This included her taking his student loans off him to pay bills, running up debts of up to £30,000 on his credit card and giving her money every month. She also disapproved of her son's relationship with his male partner and 'made this clear to him.'

Whilst on remand, O'Neill was examined by four psychiatrists. One diagnosed him as suffering from a mild to moderate depressive disorder, with another expert concluding that at the time of the murder, O'Neill was suffering from abnormal mental functioning.

The judge said the case does not easily fall into the categories outlined in the sentencing guidelines.

He remarked: "I take the view that this case clearly comes close to the borderline between murder and manslaughter."

Speaking following the sentencing, PSNI Detective Inspector Joanne Harris said: "This is a very sad case and first and foremost our sympathies today go to Anne’s daughter and also to Anne’s mother and father and wider family and friends, who continue to come to terms with her death."

Detective Inspector Harris said no one has the right to take another person's life, regardless of the circumstances.

"I cannot imagine the distress and suffering Anne’s daughter must be feeling today as she mourns for her mother, whilst also having to come to terms with the fact that her brother will be serving eight years in prison for their mother’s murder.

"My sympathies also go to Anne’s parents who are dealing with the loss of their daughter and their grandson spending years in prison.

“Whilst today’s sentencing will never bring Anne back I hope that it will bring some closure to those who are left behind after what has been a very traumatic two years for all concerned.”

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