Killing of Denise Dunlop - court hears first details

Denise Dunlop.
Denise Dunlop.

A man who stabbed his partner through the heart in front of her seven-year-old daughter will find out next week how long he will spend in prison for her murder.

Richard McAuley from Portglenone will find out what jail term he will serve next Friday. Ballymena woman Denise Dunlop was stabbed three times in her Centuripe Avenue home in the early hours of 15 June last year by her partner Richard McAuley.

Richard McAuley.

Richard McAuley.

McAuley, 41, from Townhill Road in Portglenone - who was described in court on Friday as a heroin addict - has already admitted murdering the 32-year-old woman.

He appeared in the dock of Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, where details of the fatal stabbing emerged for the first time.

In the aftermath of the stabbing, which was carried out in front of Ms Dunlop’s seven-year old daughter and her step-mother, McAuley was heard to say “with a bit of luck, she is dead”.

Ms Dunlop’s murder was carried out whilst McAuley - who has 44 previous convictions - was under a suspended sentence for an previous incident during which he shouted “Seig Heil” and carved satanic symbols with a knife on the front door of a property housing foreign nationals.

McAuley appeared in court in March, where he admitted murdering Ms Dunlop last June. Following the guilty plea, McAuley was informed that he would be facing a life sentence.

After hearing submissions from both the Crown and Defence, Mr Justice Weir said he would impose the tariff next Friday.

As family and friends of Ms Dunlop sat in the public gallery, Crown prosecutor Ciaran Murphy QC set out the case against McAuley and revealed he had stabbed his partner a total of three times in the living room of her home.

The court heard that following a report of a stabbing in the Centuripe Avenue area, the emergency services arrived at around 12.30am on 15 June last year.

Ms Dunlop was lying on her living room floor, unconscious and displaying no signs of life.

Despite being rushed to hospital Ms Dunlop passed away, and a post mortem carried out later that day revealed that she had been stabbed three times in her upper body.

A wound to her chest, which passed through her left lung and heart, proved to be the fatal injury, while she also sustained stab wounds to her right shoulder and her upper right arm.

The post mortem also revealed that at the time of her death, Ms Dunlop was “heavily intoxicated” and had been taking prescribed medication.

Mr Murphy said that in the hours before the murder, on the evening of Saturday 14 June last year, 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.

The taxi deliver later told police that the couple were arguing and had described Ms Dunlop as “agitated”.

When the taxi arrived back at Centuripe Avenue, Ms Dunlop’s seven-year old daughter returned home from the babysitter’s while a decision was made to watch football on TV.

Eye witness accounts from both Ms Dunlop’s daughter and step-mother suggest that an argument then broke out between the couple, and whilst sitting on the sofa McAuley grabbed an ornament and moved it as if to throw it, before grabbing her by the throat and yelling “I am going to kill you.”

The Crown barrister said McAuley then went into the kitchen where he armed himself with a knife.

He returned to the living room, where he stabbed Ms Dunlop three times as she sat on the sofa. Following the knife attack, McAuley was heard to say “with a bit of luck, she is dead”.

After stabbing his partner, McAuley then began to perform CPR on her, and when police arrived, they asked McAuley who he was. He got to his feet and said: “You are looking for me. I did it.”

When asked if he was responsible, McAuley said he was.

And when he was arrested for, at that stage, attempted murder, he replied, “I understand. I stabbed her twice”.

When he was charged with murdering Ms Dunlop later that day, he told police “I am really sorry I did it, I didn’t mean to kill her”.

He also made the case that Ms Dunlop had provoked him by shouting at him, grabbing his football top and pulling a chain from around his neck.

Concluding the Crown case, Mr Murphy spoke of the “devastating effect” Ms Dunlop’s death has had on her family.

Pointing out that McAuley deliberately went to the kitchen to arm himself with a knife, Mr Murphy told Mr Justice Weir one of the main aggravating features was that “the offence was committed in front of a child”.

Mr Murphy also revealed that the Crown “do not accept there was any provocation”, that prior to the stabbing there was a “domestic quarrel” and that the depth of the fatal wound indicated there was “intent to kill”.

He added: “To push a knife like that in to the front of the chest area has an inevitability about it in terms of the result”.

Defence barrister Laurence McCrudden QC, acting on behalf of McAuley, spoke of the “terribly tragic events” and reiterated the point that McAuley claimed he was provoked by Ms Dunlop.

Telling the court that while the relationship between McAuley and Ms Dunlop was marred by arguments and squabbling, it was “not a violent relationship” - but said it was “afflicted” by McAuley’s heroin and alcohol dependency as he was a “grave heroin addict” who been taking drugs since the age of 14.

Highlighting a lack of domestic violence, Mr McCrudden said it was McAuley’s case that he had never assaulted his partner before.

The barrister also said that on the night in question, his client said Ms Dunlop was verbally abusive, was “in his face” calling him a junkie and a skaghead and pulled a chain off his neck.

Mr McCrudden said the knife attack was “impulsive, over-disproportionate and an outrageous reaction” adding it was “spontaneous, non-pre-meditated and non-planned”.

He also said that his client’s almost immediate attempts to resuscitate his partner was an indication that he didn’t intend to inflict serious injuries or kill her.

The court also heard that McAuley has since expressed genuine remorse, and Mr McCrudden concluded by saying that despite their ups and down, McAuley and Ms Dunlop had an “enduring and long-term relationship”.

McAuley will find out how long he will serve in prison for the murder of his partner next Friday 15 May.