Belfast doctor to serve minimum of eight years for killing mother

Judge says Declan O’Neill was ‘provoked’ by stress of woman’s ‘controlling behaviour’

A Belfast doctor who murdered his mother has been told he will serve a minimum of eight years in jail for the “brutal, senseless and unnecessary” killing.

Declan 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 Anne.

The 51-year old woman was found with severe head injuries in the back garden of her elderly parents’ home in Finaghy on the morning of October 21st, 2017.

Neighbours contacted the police after they heard loud banging, a woman screaming and a female saying “leave me alone Declan”.


Mrs O’Neill was pronounced dead at the scene.

O’Neill brought what the judge described as a “murder kit” to his grandparents’ home. This included a rope, a mask and a chisel, which he used to attack his mother.

A postmortem concluded the cause of death was due to a bleed to the brain with multiple fractures to her skull. Pathologist Prof Jack Crane said death was “rapid but not immediate” and was due to multiple blows to the head.

“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 tile steps, and her face had been thrust against a hard, uneven surface such as the concrete path or patio.”

Officers arrived at O’Neill’s apartment a short time after his mother’s body was discovered. He told them he had been in bed with his partner and had last seen his mother the night before.

However, the police investigation found his mother’s blood in his car and on items located at the back of his apartment, including a bloodstained chisel and a rubber face mask.

When he was arrested on suspicion of murder, O’Neill initially denied involvement. However, during his 14th interview, he confessed to killing his mother. “I didn’t mean to, I just couldn’t take any more,” he said.

Mr Justice Colton told Belfast Crown Court “all murders are tragic”, but there is something particularly troubling about the murder of a mother by a son.

“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.”

However, Mr Justice Colton 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.

The judge spoke of O’Neill’s “most unhappy relationship” with his mother, which included he and his sister being brought up in an “extremely spartan home.”

The judge said that as children, they were not allowed to bring friends home.

He noted 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 his 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 noted that O’Neill pleaded guilty to spare his family further anguish, and said: “I take the view that this case clearly comes close to the borderline between murder and manslaughter.”

Mrs O’Neill, a retired nurse, was suffering from a mental illness which she refused to seek treatment for, the trial heard.

The judge 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.