A heroin addict who stabbed his partner to death in front of their seven-year-old daughter has been handed a minimum 12-year sentence for the "senseless" murder.
Sentencing Richard McAuley for the fatal knifing of his partner last year, Mr Justice Weir told him: "you have pleaded guilty to the murder of Denise Dunlop, and there is only one sentence permitted by law for that offence, namely that of life imprisonment".
As friends and relatives of Ms Dunlop sat in the public gallery at Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, 43-year-old McAuley was told he will serve a minimum sentence of 12 years in prison without remission before he can begin to be considered for release by the Parole Commission.
The court heard that as a result of seeing her father stabbing her mother to death, the couple's daughter suffered a "complex and traumatic experience" which will require "long-term and on-going" therapeutic work.
McAuley was told by Mr Justice Weir that he had caused "enormous and permanent harm" to his daughter.
The stabbing occurred in the living room of Ms Dunlop's Ballymena home on June 15 last year.
The court heard that before the knife attack on the evening of Saturday, June 14, Ms Dunlop (32) and McAuley had gone to her father's house.
As they made their way back home in a taxi, accompanied by Ms Dunlop's stepmother, 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 a babysitter's.
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". As Ms Dunlop - who at the time was drunk and had taken prescription drugs - 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 stepmother.
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.
Branding the murder as "senseless", Mr Justice Weir 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 because of provocation.
The judge said that while he accepted the couple's 13-year relationship was on and off - largely because of McAuley's substance abuse - there was no history of violence between the couple, and there was "no justification" for McAuley's actions.
McAuley, who has never worked, has 44 previous convictions.
He murdered Ms Dunlop while under a suspended sentence for a previous incident during which he shouted Nazi slogan "Sieg Heil" and carved Satanic symbols with a knife on the front door of a property housing foreign nationals.
Before McAuley was led from the dock he was told by Mr Justice Weir: "You will serve a minimum term, without remission, of 12 years before you can begin to be considered for parole."
Speaking last night, North Antrim MLA Paul Frew said: "Twelve years is a lenient sentence, considering the heinous crime that Richard McAuley committed.
"The family will never get over it - especially the little girl who witnessed her mother being murdered."
Mr Frew said he had been at school with McAuley and also knew the murdered woman's young son.
"I'd like to think that McAuley would spend a lot more than 12 years in prison - for the sake of the Dunlop family, who have to live day in and day out with the consequences of his crime."
Ballymena councillor Steven Nicholl said: "Twelve years for a murder is light. It's neither a punishment nor a deterrent."