Declan O’Neill: Belfast doctor sentenced for killing ‘bullying’ mother

Laganside Courts, Belfast

A south Belfast doctor who received a life sentence for the murder of his mother has been told he will serve at least eight years in prison before he can be considered for release on licence.

The minimum tariff was imposed during a hearing at Belfast Crown Court on Thursday.

Declan O’Neill murdered his mother Anne at her parents’ house in October 2017.

In September, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

However, last month, a court heard the 29-year-old had been raised “in almost third-world conditions” and in an atmosphere of “intimidation and bullying”.

Mrs O’Neill, 51, was found in the garden of her elderly parents’ home in Ardmore Avenue in Finaghy on 21 October, 2017.

O’Neill had attacked her with a chisel and later pleaded guilty to murdering her.

Explaining the difficulty of sentencing in the particular circumstances of the case, the judge said: “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.”

He said that the natural reaction to such an event is that “something has gone badly wrong”, adding that 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”.

The public gallery was almost empty save for Declan O’Neill’s grandfather and father – who are also the victim’s father and ex-partner.

They gave no reaction as the tariff was revealed.

Declan O’Neill sobbed through much of the hearing, as he has done on previous occasions.

It’s perhaps evidence of the great remorse the court had heard he has felt since the brutal killing.

He’s already served almost two years in prison on remand, so they will be deducted from his eight-year prison sentence.

The judge said statements provided by the defendant’s sister and grandmother (Mrs O’Neill’s mother) were “unique and compelling” in that both were “extremely supportive of the defendant and [made] a compelling and moving plea for clemency on the defendant’s behalf”.

However, he added that it was “essential to remember that a person had been killed as a result of the defendant’s actions”.

“Anne O’Neill’s death was brutal, senseless and unnecessary,” he said.

“Much has been said about her in the course of these remarks, but nothing that has been said should take away from this fundamental point.”

A pre-sentence report assessed the likelihood of O’Neill re-offending as being low and noted that he presented with 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”.

Speaking after the sentencing, PSNI Det Insp Joanne Harris described the case as “very sad” and “harrowing for all concerned”.

“No matter what the circumstances are that led to the murder of Anne, no-one has the right to take another person’s life,” she said.

“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 [her] murder.”

BBC News