Claire Lott often finds herself arranging memories of her daughter, Nadine. Simple ones. The girl whose laugh prompted the laughter of others. The woman who would never leave home without make-up, even if only for a run, and who was devoted to her own daughter, Kya – "the love of her life".
Or the memories of the woman who, with a heart-shaped birthmark, literally wore her heart on her sleeve.
In October 2019, two months before she died, Claire brought Nadine to Rome to celebrate her 30th birthday. There, as the summer waned, they sat and talked about “anything and everything”.
“Nadine would tell you everything,” Claire remembers. There, she confided that she was at a point in her life where a relationship was not a primary concern for her. “She said: ‘I’m actually so happy in my life now, I don’t need anybody.’
“She loved her job, her car, her apartment, she was so proud of everything she had achieved. She had been approached to do some modelling. Everything was right.” Life was filled with promise.
During the 'total carnage', Kya had screamed at and begged her father to stop and 'not to kill her mummy', but Murtagh had carried on
But these memories are often overshadowed by darker thoughts from the three days when her daughter fought for her life, savagely beaten by her former partner, Daniel Murtagh, to the point where she was unrecognisable.
“You try to put those away,” her mother explains.
Less than two years after the attack, she sat and she listened in Court 19 of the Criminal Courts of Justice as the Chief State Pathologist, Linda Mulligan, detailed each of the 64 injuries to her daughter's "tiny" frame.
“Every single part of her body, even down to the palms of her hands and feet, had injuries and bruises,” says Claire. “There wasn’t even one part [of her] we could say was okay,” her mother told The Irish Times.
The evidence, including details of the blood spattered kitchen, was heard within “touching distance” of the man who had carried out this brutal, primal attack. “This is my daughter you are talking about. It was so cold and factual,” she says.
Next Friday marks the second anniversary of Nadine Lott's death. She died three days after the grotesquely violent attack in her Arklow home at the hands of Murtagh, her former partner. Kya, then just six, witnessed it all.
During the “total carnage”, Kya had screamed at and begged her father to stop and “not to kill her mummy”, but Murtagh had carried on. Kya had seen the devil at work, Claire Lott later told the court.
His name is never uttered today in the Lott household. “We don’t mention him ever,” she says. “If he has to be mentioned, he is referred to as ‘The Monster’. He is never referenced by name. We don’t consider what he is doing, where he is, what he was. He is gone,” she says.
In June 2012, Nadine travelled to Australia with friends on a year's working holiday. Her mother was "heartbroken" to see her go, but would not have tried to discourage her. Her daughter did well there as a beautician.
She had few boyfriends before she had the "dreadful misfortune" of meeting Murtagh in Darwin, the capital city of Australia's vast Northern Territory. Initially, she told only her confidante and younger sister Phoebe (26) about the Clondalkin man. She told her mother later.
Claire characterises their relationship as a “holiday romance”.
“We wouldn’t have known anything about his background as she met him in Australia and his family is not from around here.
“We are very trusting as a family and we rely on each other a lot and Nadine had a very trusting nature. She probably inherited that because we would have trusted at face value initially what we saw and that was to our detriment,” says Claire ruefully.
In June 2013, Nadine returned home. She had become pregnant shortly after meeting Murtagh. The window-fitter followed her home a few months later and, when their daughter Kya was born, they moved into an apartment together.
Things did not work out, however.
“They lasted a very short time together. It was a holiday romance and when they got home the holiday was over and Nadine was pregnant. When he came home it dwindled very quickly,” says Claire.
“They had had a baby together and she wanted to have the perfect family unit. She was doing what she could to make that work but within months it was all over.”
In 2016, Nadine made a last attempt to save the relationship: “She didn’t have feelings for him, but I think she thought: ‘We have a baby together, we will try one last time.’ And she really did try,” she says.
However, it ended when Murtagh failed to turn up at the house which Nadine had, with difficulty, rented for them. “She said she wasn’t upset about him and didn’t care about him. It was more a pride thing, she had been let down and everybody could see it.”
Despite going separate ways, Nadine still wanted her daughter to have a relationship with her father. “Nadine wanted him to have a relationship with Kya more than he wanted to have a relationship with Kya,” Claire believes.
Nadine’s biggest achievement in life was Kya and the mother she became, her mother says. Nadine’s birthing partner in November 2013 was her sister Phoebe, not Murtagh. Phoebe, not Murtagh, took the first photographs of mother and baby.
During all of the time, Claire recalls that her daughter “never, ever, ever” told her that she loved Murtagh. “Even after having Kya, she never once said: ‘I love him.’ She always just said: ‘He is funny.’
“He was a very insignificant part of our lives.”
Just under two weeks before the brutal assault, Nadine told Murtagh in a WhatsApp message not to “threaten” her and that “nothing is ever going to happen between us again, I want to make that clear.”
With hindsight, Murtagh clearly had tried to control her daughter, Claire believes: “At the time we wouldn’t have looked at it as controlling. But he was trying to have everything on his terms.”
He would promise to visit Kya and not show up. Money for Nadine had to be handed over personally: “He had to be in control. We always felt he wanted to see Nadine more than he wanted to see Kya. Kya was just his way of seeing Nadine.”
Murtagh disliked Nadine seeing anyone else, even though they were not together: “Nadine did have to keep things from him even though they were no longer together. She would just say: ‘It’s easier, I don’t have to put up with the grief.’
“Nadine was dating a Turkish guy and the next day she got a text to say: ‘So you were out on a date. I think I’ll go and get my hair done with a Turkish barber,’” Claire recalls. “He was letting her know that he knew she had been out with this guy. That was regular.”
Despite her feelings, Nadine never criticised Murtagh in front of Kya. “Nadine never gave out about him if he never came to Arklow or never turned up. Nadine would make an excuse for him, she would do anything to make it easier for Kya to accept.”
Pictures help with memories and I thought if she had all these pictures around her, she would get comfort when she wakes up
Murtagh had not been violent before the fatal attack, her mother insists: “Nadine was very open. Even if she would not have admitted it to me as her mother, if she was trying to protect me; she definitely would have said it to Phoebe or her friends.”
It never entered Claire’s mind that she would face such carnage when she went into her daughter’s apartment after a frantic phone call from a neighbour: “We literally thought Nadine would be sitting there with one stab wound. And he would have run and she would have been upset. That’s what I went up to deal with and what I was preparing for.”
There, however, she had to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to her dying daughter. Those minutes now live with her every day: “Not only do I have that picture of Nadine that night. I have the sound in my head constantly of her gasping and gurgling [for air]. That never leaves me.”
The Lotts will never know exactly what happened after she returned home from a family night out in a local Arklow pub. Murtagh had been babysitting Kya, having earlier attended her school recital and nativity play. Consequently, he was staying the night.
At about 4am, Nadine's friend and neighbour Amela Kulenovic found Murtagh "vicious with rage" and making a "growling noise" as he rained blows on his ex-partner as she lay on the living room floor. He was "going ape" and "like a wild animal", Kulenovic later told gardaí.
Before the attack, Nadine had changed into her pyjamas, neatly folding the dress worn on the night out. “I have so much in my head but I’ll never know what happened. I have a million opinions, a million scenarios and a million sounds,” her mother says.
Murtagh fled after the attack, driving away in his Volvo. Thirty kilometres away, in Laragh, he crashed into a ditch, suffering minor injuries. A motorist stopped to help, only to be told by Murtagh that he had "killed my wife because she was with my friend".
Today, Claire Lott believes that the “extreme and grotesque” injuries inflicted on Nadine’s face – which had separated flesh from bone – were utterly deliberate. “Without a doubt,” she says.
Pointing from her neck to the top of her head, Claire goes on: “When I saw Nadine, everything was focused from here up. Everything was destroyed beyond recognition. Not only did she not look like Nadine, she didn’t look human either.
“For all of that to have happened before she had even got into hospital and before the swelling had started to take place. Her head and face were destroyed. It was just a mess,” she says.
Gda Supt Declan McCarthy, who headed the murder investigation, said he had never seen such violence in his 40 years of service, a view echoed by doctors. Her injuries were so catastrophic that she never regained consciousness.
Claire brought some of her daughter’s belongings to put beside her hospital bed – a photo of Nadine, her wash-bag, her perfume and pictures of Kya: “I wasn’t sure what sort of damage was going to be there when she woke up.
“Pictures help with memories and I thought if she had all these pictures around her, she would get comfort when she wakes up,” says Claire, who believed her daughter would recover consciousness, despite the injuries and the need for 42 pints of blood.
“As a mother you hope against hope. Visually, you are seeing one thing but you just hope that the injuries are almost superficial and deep down there can be a healing and she would come out of it. I just wanted her back, it didn’t matter what form I got her back in.
“I knew it would be a long recovery. I thought we were in for months of recovery before we even got to healing. I thought we were going to need plastic surgery. Those were the thoughts that were going through my head.
“Even when they were taking her down for the last brain scan, I still was sitting in the chair thinking: ‘Come on Nadine, show them there is a little bit of you there. Just give them something that they can work with.’” She died on December 17th, 2019, at 3.16pm.
Today, Claire Lott believes her daughter's identity got lost during the trial: "From the minute the trial started until it was over, it was all about him. We referenced it as 'his show'. He felt like he was running the show."
Her daughter’s voice, she says, was not heard until a victim-impact statement was read at the sentence hearing in October, when Murtagh received the mandatory term of life imprisonment for murder.
“That’s why it was so important for us to do it as a family,” she says.
Claire Lott attended every day of the three-week trial, bar the two days when Murtagh’s final video interview with gardaí was played to the jury. “I stayed at home with Kya. I didn’t want to be there to listen to him boasting about what he had done,” she says.
In it, the 34-year-old boxer told of the “pounding” he inflicted, sitting forward in his chair as he did so, punching his fist into the palm of his other hand. He told, too, of how he used a tyre pump charger, with its wire wrapped around his knuckles for a solid punch.
He lied throughout, she says, about his claims to gardaí that Nadine had been seeing someone else and when he claimed they were “kind of back together for the past three months, on and off”.
“He never thought he would get convicted of murder, he thought he would be found guilty of manslaughter. At no point did he actually believe or did his family believe that he would be found guilty of murder.
“He honestly believed that the jury would be on his side. I think he is so self-centred and egotistical that he thought people would believe what came out of his mouth,” she says, noting that he had called Nadine his “future wife” in his last interview.
“She was neither his girlfriend nor his wife. They were amicable for a child and that was it. In her texts to him, she was being as nice as she could be but it didn’t mean she even liked him,” Claire insists.
Nadine’s mother was repulsed by Murtagh’s demeanour in the courtroom, especially when he would blow kisses down to his mother from the dock before he went into the cells each evening.
There has never been an apology from him.
“One day we were leaving court and we had just seen the most graphic pictures of Nadine’s blood and drag stains all over the apartment. And his mother shouted up to him: ‘I love you.’ How can a woman sit and look at what is being done to another woman and then portray her love?”
“That made it even harder for us because I, Phoebe, Tanith, Kyle, David, none of us could look up at Nadine and shout: ‘We love you. We will see you later. We will call you at seven.’ They thought this was okay to do.”
Pain and grief
Today, Nadine is talked about every day by the Lotts, to keep her memory alive for Kya.
Hundreds of people attended a vigil for her in Arklow, her hometown: “She would never pass anyone without saying hello, she would always help someone out if needed help, she would never see anyone stuck,” Phoebe says.
This month, the Lotts' priority is to give eight-year-old Kya, who is looking forward to Santa, the best memories of Christmas possible, even though December is the month when she had to say "goodbye to her mammy".
“But the reality is that Kya will say herself that not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about that night. She says ‘Why my mummy’ and tells us how hard it is to be the only person in her class who doesn’t have a mummy,” Claire says.
“We talk about Nadine like she is still here. It’s almost like she will walk in the door. Like she was here yesterday and is coming back. Then you are driving the car and you get this overwhelming pain and grief like you are actually going to go insane.
“And then your brain switches off and even if you wanted to keep the crying going you can’t. You live in 2019 and in those couple of weeks before Nadine passed where everything was fine. That’s where you live.”
The Nadine Lott Trust Fund has been set up in Nadine's memory and as a secure fund for Kya's benefit throughout her life. Contributions can be made through Bank of Ireland in Arklow, or through Pádraig J Hyland & Co Solicitors, Arklow.