Man who killed partner in savage Hawick murder is jailed

A convicted rapist who murdered his partner by repeatedly kicking, stamping and striking her head against a floor has been jailed for life.

By court reporter
Friday, 29th April 2022, 10:23 am
Trevelyan Terrace, Hawick.
Trevelyan Terrace, Hawick.

Rory O’Connor, 54, subjected his partner Diane Nichol, 57, to a “savage” assault at his house in Trevelyan Terrace in Hawick on August 9, 2021.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard how O’Connor had been heard shouting at Diane on the day before she died.

A witness heard O’Connor tell her: “You’re useless, you don’t clean, you don’t make my lunch, you better make it tomorrow.”

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The following day, a neighbour heard banging and shouting coming from her flat.

Prosecutor Craig Murray told the court: “A downstairs neighbour heard the accused’s raised voice and banging noises all day on August 9, 2021.

“The neighbour could not hear the deceased’s voice.

“The disturbance intensified in the evening when the accused’s voice became louder.

“Between 7.30pm and 8.15pm, the accused said: ‘I’m not going to sleep with you then.’

“At around 8.25pm, the neighbour heard three to five bangs in quick succession coming from the floor of the bedroom of the locus.

“They were noticeably louder than the banging the neighbour heard earlier in the day.

“The accused shouted ‘get up get up or I will hurt you again’. There were further banging noises.

“A female could be heard whimpering and moaning and the neighbour called the police at 8.57pm.”

The court heard how when police officers arrived, the accused let the police in and said ‘Diane wake up, come on get up’.

Officers saw blood stains and a large clump of Diane’s hair lying beside her as she lay face down on the floor.

The officers and paramedics tried to save Diane’s life, but she later died that evening.

Police arrested O’Connor and later told him what happened to her.

The court heard he replied: “What happened, how did she die?”

The story emerged after O’Connor, a prisoner of HMP Edinburgh, pleaded guilty to murdering Diane before Lord Beckett.

Mr Murray told the court that O’Connor had been given a 10-year prison term after being convicted in Dublin in 2002 on charges of rape and sexual assault.

However, he had been released in 2008 and came to live in the Scottish Borders where he worked as a fishing ghillie on the Tweed.

Mr Murray told the court that forensic officers carried out an examination of the property following the attack.

He said they found blood stains the floor of the bedroom, living room and bathroom floor. Blood was also found on bedsheets in the bedroom.

Clumps of hair were also found in the bedroom, which had been “forcibly pulled from the deceased’s skull”.

Mr Murray also told Lord Beckett that a post mortem was carried out on Diane.

Pathologists found that she had chest and abdominal injuries.

He added: “The deceased sustained a number of chest and abdominal injuries which, in culmination with resulting breathing difficulties and blood loss, was sufficient to cause death.

“The injuries were caused by multiple blunt force impacts to her torso and abdomen. The findings are typical of what would be seen with stamps and/or kicks.”

The advocate depute said Diane sustained fractured ribs and had bruising.

She also sustained a rare liver injury as a consequence of being assaulted.

He added: “The transection of the liver ... is a signficant internal injury which would be normally seen in people who have fallen from a significant height or involved in a road traffic collision.

“The transection of the liver is an injury very rarely seen even in high velocity road traffic collisions.

“The period of survival from such a liver injury is likely to be a few minutes.”

He also said that medics thought that Diane may have been lying face down on the ground when O’Connor stamped on her.

The court also heard that when O’Connor was taken to Hawick Police Station, he thought she was still alive.

Mr Murray said: “Whilst in the police van on arrival at Hawick Police Station, the accused made a number of statements to the effect that he still believed she was alive and they had an argument earlier.

“He repeatedly inquired after her.

“The police officers repeatedly informed the accused he was under caution.

“The accused was informed of the death of the deceased.

“He replied: ‘What happened, how did she die?’

"He appeared upset.”

Defence advocate Mark Stewart QC told the court that O’Connor and Diane were in a long-term relationship with each other.

Mr Stewart added: “As your lordship has heard, the relationship was one characterised by both parties being, I think it is fair to say, heavily reliant on alcohol.

“In drink, it is true, arguments did happen and disagreements took place, but they were normally and rapidly dealt with and parties moved on.

“He didn’t understand that anything of the magnitude which occurred had indeed occurred and he believed Miss Nichol was perhaps injured but not dead.

“I think it is fair to say that he was witnessed by police to be shocked by the consequences of what he now accepts he had been responsible for when police told him of the death.”

Mr Stewart said his client pleaded guilty and wanted to apologise to Diane’s family for what he had done to her.

Lord Beckett told O’Connor that the only sentence available to the court was life imprisonment.

The judge said O’Connor would be released only when the parole board were satisfied he no longer posed a threat to public safety.

Passing sentence, he told O’Connor: “Mr O’Connor, you have pleaded guilty to murdering your partner Diane Nichol.

“For murder, the sentence is fixed by law ... you will be sentenced to life imprisonment.

“I must also take account of the fact that the crime was aggravated by the fact that it was committed against your partner.

“She trusted you and was entitled to expect your protection and support.

“But instead you inflicted sustained, brutal violence causing appalling injuries which inevitably proved fatal.

“I take account of those considerations in selecting the punishment part.

“As a result of your actions, Diane Nichol lost her life at 57 and her family have been left devastated and will never be the same again.

“I have read moving statements from her mother, her sister and her daughter explaining the impact of their loss and the grief upon them and the wider family.

“There has been profound consequences for their health and well-being.

“The court must do what it can to deter such savage domestic violence of the kind you inflicted on your partner.

“Having regard to the whole circumstances, but for your plea of guilty the punishment part for the charge of murder would have been 18 years.

“As it is the punishment part is 15 years and six months.”