Man admits murdering Bellaghy woman

Lauren O'Neill.
Lauren O'Neill.

A TOOME man who murdered his ex-partner’s sister dramatically pleaded guilty at the last minute today and has been told he will be jailed for life.

Phelim McNally (27) faces life in prison for the murder of his ex-partner’s sister and attempting to murder the mother of his two children in a double shooting incident in Bellaghy on May 19 last year.

On Wednesday a jury was sworn in at Londonderry Crown Court to hear the murder case, but in a dramatic turn of events on Thursday McNally changed his plea.

He admitted murdering 18-year-old Lauren O’Neill and attempting to murder her 22-year-old sister Brenda, in her south Londonderry home in William Court in Bellaghy.

In an almost inaudible whisper McNally, from Station Road, in Toome, pleaded guilty before a packed Belfast Crown Court, where his case had been listed at the last minute as a ‘mention’.

Following his pleas, Mr Justice Treacy told McNally the only sentence the court could pass was one of life imprisonment, but that later this month he would “deal with the question of the appropriate tariff”, setting out how long he must serve of the life term.

Earlier defence QC James Gallagher had applied to the court for McNally to be rearraigned on both charges to which he had initially pleaded “Not Guilty” before the jury of six men and six women empanelled to hear the murder trial which was to have started in Coleraine on Monday and expected to last two weeks.

Prosecution QC Frank O’Donoghue then informed Mr Justice Treacy that before McNally’s change of plea, counsel in the case had carefully considered the background to the case and the aggravating and mitigating features to it.

Mr O’Donoghue said the prosecution accepted that McNally had only formed the intention to kill after “seeing text messages on Brenda O’Neill’s phone, or a short time thereafter”. He also told Mr Justice Treacy that those sets of agreed facts would be typed and handed into court later.