UPDATED: Life sentence for Birkenhead man following frenzied fatal knife attack

UPDATED: Life sentence for Birkenhead man following frenzied fatal knife attack

LIFE SENTENCE: Denis O'Neill

JAILED: Steven Johnson

First published in News
Last updated

A Birkenhead man who murdered another local man in a horrifying frenzied knife attack was jailed for life today.

A judge told Denis O'Neill that he has to serve a minimum of 23 years before he can apply for parole.

He repeatedly stabbed 38-year-old James Byrne, known as 'Shaba' or 'Jaba', with a "fearsome" bush craft knife which he owned for his outdoor pursuits involving carving and skinning animals.

Such was the ferocity of the blows that two penetrated his skull and a pathologist said he had only seen such unusual injuries requiring "massive force" on one or two previous occasions.

He also suffered  six other stab wounds, one penetrating his left upper chest, completely severing the cartilage of the second rib, which would have required severe force, and one in his back puncturing his right lung and damaging a major vein causing massive internal bleeding.

John Benson , QC  prosecuting, told the court: "The deceased clearly he was terribly and fatally injured."

A woman witness saw 48-year-old O'Neill crouching over his helpless victim and stabbing him on the pavement in Old Chester Road, Birkenhead.

"He was lying on the pavement beneath you trying to get way and he was pleading for his life," said the judge, Mrs Justice Patterson.

She said that he had selected the "vicious" knife after Mr Byrne had been on the wall behind O'Neill's flat in Old Chester Road armed with a bottle after O'Neill had earlier punched a mutual friend.

O'Neill went outside for a "straightener" and put the knife down and a scuffle began but he then picked the knife up again which caused Mr Byrne to flee in fright.

O'Neill gave chase and followed him down the alley into Well Lane and onto Old Chester Road.

"You escalated it by giving chase and inflicting devastating injuries. It is clear once the attack commenced you intended to kill him," said the judge.

"It was a short incident but one that is repellent in the ferocity of the attack that you delivered and which proved fatal to Mr Byrne who died the following day in hospital."

Mrs Justice Patterson said that he had accepted his conduct was unjustifiable.

"Mr Byrne had done nothing to you to warrant any attack let alone one with such ferocity. Nothing can excuse the taking of a man's life in such a violent and unprovoked manner."

Liverpool Crown Court heard that after the attack late on September 22 last year he then went to his home of his friend Steven Johnson, who lived in the same block of flats, and Johnson gave him tracksuit bottoms to hide his blood-stained shorts and cleaned up some of the blood.

O'Neill then hid his lethal knife in gravel in a nearby garden and went into the countryside before surrendering to a police station the following morning.

45-year-old Johnson was convicted of three offences of attempting to pervert the course of justice and was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

The judge said that he had mopped up the trail of blood at the block of flats to reduce the evidence linking his friend with the "awful crime he had just committed."

He also verbally threatened the woman who saw the attack, by telling her: "You didn't see anything did you? He stabbed him five times but he had a bottle."

Johnson also provided O'Neill with the tracksuit bottoms.

His actions were driven by "a misguided sense of friendship, she said. "Your behaviour was irresponsible and foolish but committed per a short period of time."

Both men had denied the offences they faced but were unanimously convicted by a jury after four hours of deliberations.

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