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Family speak of ‘whirlwind’ of feelings as nephew gets life for uncle’s murder

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The niece of a 78-year-old widower has told the Central Criminal Court that her family have experienced a raw, pervasive fear “stemming from the chilling reality of evil so close to home”.

The testimony was heard as part of three emotional victim impact statements read today to the Central Criminal Court, where 34-year-old Thomas Lorigan was sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment for murdering his uncle Mr O’Neill. The sentence was backdated to January 8 2022, when he went into custody.

Niamh Higgins, niece of Mr O’Neill, told the Central Criminal Court today that the “cruel loss” of her uncle to this “heinous murder has plunged us into a whirlwind of raw feelings”.

She added: “Feelings we find ourselves wholly unprepared for – overwhelming grief, despair, trauma, including a pervasive fear stemming from the chilling reality of evil so close to home”.

Ms Higgins said that to think of the injuries “being inflicted by a stranger” would be “horrendous” but knowing it was a family member who carried out the murder is “beyond torture”.

Ms Higgins, who is the daughter of Mr O’Neill’s last remaining sibling Marie Kellett, said the murder of her uncle had left “a hollowness” in their lives “that words struggle to fill” and that the deceased was “more than just a statistic of crime; he was the core of our family, a dear friend and the soul of the community in Lisdoonvarna”.

The trial heard that Mr O’Neill had regularly helped another sister, Geraldine, and provided financial assistance if needed when she split up with her husband. When Geraldine passed away, Mr O’Neill had acted as a guardian for her three children, including Lorigan, who was around 12 or 13 years old at the time.

Sentencing judge Mr Justice Paul McDermott noted today (Monday) that following trials of these kind families get the opportunity through a victim impact statement to express and paint the pictures of persons whose lives have been taken. The judge said it is very important this happens as when families sit through “the awful details of cases of this kind” they sometimes feel the case “has drifted away from the victim because of the sterile forensic context in which everything has been analysed”.

He added: “In essence, these proceedings are all about the deceased at the end of the day. It’s very clear in this case and from what I have heard that Mr O’Neill’s memory will never be lost and he was a man who had high standing in the community and his family”.

Mr Justice McDermott went on to say it is clear that the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment exists “from the nature of the offending in this case and the brutality in the way” Mr O’Neill was killed.

“Anyone who saw the CCTV footage of what was done to Mr O’Neill will not forget it. The circumstances in which a family member was responsible for this where there is no understanding of why it occurred at all, adds to and aggravates the nature of the offending. The shock is felt not only by the family but also by the wider community,” added the judge.

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