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Doctor who murdered mother handed eight-year jail term

Declan O'Neill (left) admitted killing his mother Anne (right) at his grandparent's house in Finaghy in 2017. Credit: Pacemaker

A Belfast doctor who beat his 'extremely controlling' mother to death has been handed an eight-year jail term for her murder.

Declan O'Neill, a 29-year-old doctor, had admitted arming himself with a chisel and killing his 51-year old mother Anne on the morning of Saturday 21 October, 2017.

O’Neill had already been handed life sentence for murder, with the judge then determining the minimum jail term to be served.

O'Neill wept as Mr Justice Colton said he was "provoked at the very least by the prolonged stress" endured by the "extremely controlling behaviour" of his mother.

She was found with severe head injuries in the back garden of her elderly parents home in Finaghy on the morning of Saturday October 21st, 2017.

Neighbours contacted the police after they heard loud banging, a woman screaming and a female saying "leave me alone Declan". Despite the intervention of emergency services, Mrs O'Neill was pronounced dead at the scene.

Her son armed himself with a chisel and attacked her with the weapon. He also banged her head and face off a hard surface, and post mortem carried out the following day concluded the cause of death was due to a bleed to the brain with multiple fractures to her skull.

Officers arrested him at his Malone Avenue apartment a short time later, and despite initially denying involvement, the 29-year old admitted killing his mother and said "I didn't mean to, I just couldn't take any more."

All murders are tragic, but there is something particularly troubling about the murder of a mother by a son. It runs against the natural order of things. On hearing of such an event, the natural reaction is that something has gone badly wrong. 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.

– Mr Justice Colton

As O'Neill wept, he was addressed by the judge, who said he accepted there were strong mitigating factors in the case - including a lifetime of being controlled by his mother, and his mental state at the time.

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

– Mr Justice Colton

The judge then told O'Neill he will serve a minimum of eight years before he is considered eligible for release by the Paroles Commission, which includes a period of 702 days he has served in custody on remand.

Mr Justice Colton referred to reports prepared for the court by four consultant psychiatrists, a pre-sentence report prepared by the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, a summary of police interviews with the defendant’s sister and victim statements from the deceased’s sister and his grandmother (mother of the deceased).

The reports described a most unhappy relationship between the defendant and his mother. The defendant said his mother was very controlling and extremely abusive of him. He believed his mother hated him intensely throughout his life.

A pre-sentence report assessed the likelihood of O'Neill, from Malone Avenue in south Belfast, offending again as being low. It noted he had a high level of regret and is "clearly struggling to come to terms with the consequences of his actions and repeatedly stated how much he missed his mother".

The judge referred to victim personal statements provided by the defendant's sister and grandmother who were both extremely supportive of the defendant and made a compelling and moving plea for clemency on his behalf.

The judge said due to the extent of the injuries inflicted on the victim, who was vulnerable because of her disability, the tariff was set at a higher starting point of 16 years. Mitigating factors then taken into consideration was that the case was close to the borderline between murder and manslaughter, there was genuine and evident remorse from the defendant, who admitted his actions.