Coercive control: Michaela Boyle backs new domestic abuse laws

Mairead McCallion
Image caption Mairead McCallion died the day after she claimed her partner assaulted her in February 2014.

The Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Michaela Boyle, has urged victims of domestic violence to reach out after revealing she is the sister of Mairead McCallion, who died at the hands of her abusive partner.

She died from a bleed in the brain after being attacked by Noel Knox in his Omagh home in 2014.

He was charged with her murder, but the case was later dropped.

Knox died in 2017 shortly after the coroner confirmed her cause of death.

Mrs Boyle said: "It's devastating when you're watching a sister or a loved one - anybody you know really - slowly die at the hands of their partner.

Image copyright PSNI
Image caption Mairead McCallion was found with head injuries at a house in Castleview Court in Omagh.

"When a woman is being beat and physically abused and assaulted it is very, very difficult.

"They say that you will be assaulted up to 30 times before you actually make that call."

The night of the attack

Describing the night of the attack, the mayor said that her sister had made contact with Knox and tried to gain entry to the house he was drinking in.

"He came out in a rage, he flung her to the ground and banged her head on a wall.

"Mairead sustained quite a bad injury to her head and her hair had been pulled out"

She had been taken to police custody and Knox was arrested.

Image caption Noel Knox died at the age of 52, shortly after the coroner's court confirmed the attack was Mairead's cause of death.

While in police custody her condition deteriorated, she had slumped in the seat of the police car - barely coherent - and vomited.

Ms McCallion was rushed to South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen where she died the following day on 24 February 2014.

"We will never see justice for Mairead," says Mrs Boyle, "We don't feel anything for Noel Knox now.

"We did at the time, after the coroner's court, because we wanted the public prosecution service to open up this investigation again, in light of the new recommendations and evidence that came from the court.

"Unfortunately that didn't happen - he died not long after from a blood clot."

Did a serial killer murder my sister?

Image caption Mairead McCallion had a history of suffering domestic abuse.

Ms McCallion's death was the subject of BBC documentary - Did a Serial Killer Murder my Sister? - last year.

It explored the deaths of some of Knox's previous partners in tragic circumstances.

It also uncovered letters written by her about the ordeal, but it was by no means a secret.

She had been in a relationship with Knox for six or seven years and was known to PSNI domestic violence officers.

"Her sister Patricia, her sister Josephine and her sister Michelle had spoke constantly with her - and her brothers as well.

"They asked her to seek help and get out of the relationship.

"But when you enter into a loving relationship with a man that you trust and you know, think he's the one even, that suddenly turns sour whenever there is domestic violence.

"And I think in Mairead's case, it was pretty obvious from the start that the relationship was in a downward spiral," says her sister Michaela.

Coercive control

Image caption A post mortem examination found that Ms McCallion died from a bleed to her brain caused by a traumatic event.

Mrs Boyle has backed the news that Westminster legislation to protect domestic abuse victims from a form of bullying know as "coercive control" is to be extended to Northern Ireland.

"Personally, I want to see the institutions up and running to get these issues resolved because these are rights-based issues - for women in particular.

"We want the assembly up and running on the basis that people's rights are being protected.

"And I'd like to think if it was up and running tomorrow, that this would be one piece of legislation that would be right up there at the top marks of high importance."

The legislation which would make coercive control an offence in Northern Ireland will be included in the Domestic Abuse Bill according to the Department of Justice.

This includes psychological abuse and non-violent intimidation and aims to interrupt perpetrator's behaviour at a much earlier stage.

"I would appeal to all women, if you are in a relationship where you feel that you're being bullied or being threatened or being coerced into doing something that you don't want to do, to recognise that's domestic abuse.

"That's domestic violence. Get help. Even if it's only speaking to a sister or a brother or a friend."

"Just talk about it, just tell someone what you're experiencing in your relationship, because there is help out there," urged Mrs Boyle.