Northern Ireland

Ballymena murder: Man gets 12 years for killing partner in front of daughter

Scene of murder in Ballymena
Image caption The fatal stabbing occurred in the living room of Ms Dunlop's home

A County Antrim man who stabbed his partner to death in front of their seven-year-old daughter has been given a minimum 12-year sentence.

Richard McAuley, 42, from Townhill Road in Portglenone pleaded guilty to the murder of Denise Dunlop, aged 32.

The fatal stabbing occurred in the living room of Ms Dunlop's Centuripe Avenue home in Ballymena last June.

The court heard that as a result of the attack, the couple's daughter suffered a "complex and traumatic experience".

McAuley was told by the judge, Mr Justice Weir, that he had caused "enormous and permanent harm" to his daughter.

The court heard that prior to the attack, on the evening of 14 June, Ms Dunlop and McAuley had gone to her father's house.

As they made their way back home in a taxi accompanied by Ms Dunlop's step-mother, the taxi stopped at an off-licence where alcohol was bought.

When the taxi arrived back at Centuripe Avenue, Ms Dunlop's seven-year old daughter returned home from the babysitter's and they watched football on the TV.

A row between the couple then broke out - possibly over an ice cream that was given to the girl - which resulted in what Mr Justice Weir described as "mutual pushing and pulling".

'Triviality'

As Ms Dunlop sat on the sofa, McAuley went to the kitchen where he armed himself with a knife.

He returned to the living room, where he stabbed his partner three times in the upper body in front of their daughter and Ms Dunlop's step-mother.

A wound to her chest, which passed through her left lung and heart, proved to be the fatal injury.

Mr Justice Weir said the killing was "senseless" and told McAuley his actions had deprived a young girl of her mother.

Saying the row was "fuelled by drink and drugs", the judge said a young woman had died in a row which was "almost unbelievable in its triviality".

Since murdering Ms Dunlop, the court heard McAuley had made the case that he acted as he did due to provocation.

However, the judge said that while he accepted the couple's 13-year relationship was on and off - largely due to McAuley's substance abuse - there was no history of violence between the couple, and there was "no justification" for McAuley's actions.

Mr Justice Weir told McAuley: "You are a powerfully built man of six feet one, while the deceased was a foot shorter. There was no excuse for bringing a knife into this silly domestic dispute.

"The deceased was very drunk, and the prescription drugs she had taken would have made her intoxication worse. She was no threat to you."

The judge also told McAuley he did not believe his claims that he did not intent to kill Ms Dunlop, and that the knife attack was carried out in front of their daughter and Mrs Dunlop "without a thought for the consequences for them."

The court heard McAuley has 44 previous convictions.

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