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Sunday 20 October 2019

Survivor of brutal knife assault that left friend dead tells of horror at killer getting day release

Sinéad O'Leary (20) and Nichola Sweeney (19) - victims of Peter Whelan
Sinéad O'Leary (20) and Nichola Sweeney (19) - victims of Peter Whelan
Ian Begley

Ian Begley

The survivor of a brutal knife assault which left her friend dead has expressed her horror that convicted killer Peter Whelan is getting escorted day releases just six years into his life sentence.

On April 27, 2002, Whelan (19) broke into a house at random and attacked two young women, Nichola Sweeney (19) and Sinéad O'Leary (20), as they got ready for a night out in Cork city.

In a matter of minutes, Nichola died of her injuries on her bedroom floor.

Some of Sinéad's injuries were to her chest and back, but most of the stab wounds she suffered in the attack were to her arms. Such was the ferocity of Whelan's attack that one of the knives he used broke in her arm.

Speaking on RTÉ's 'Prime Time' which airs on RTÉ One at 9.35pm tonight, Sinéad told how she was sitting on her friend's bed when the attack began.

"I saw a figure appear and start to walk towards me.

"He just, without speaking, pushed me down on to the floor and immediately started stamping on my body and my legs and kicking me. I started screaming and Nichola came running out of the bathroom.

"She was screaming at him to stop and he just turned and looked at her but never spoke. He just lifted up his shirt to reveal the two knives..."

Peter Whelan
Peter Whelan

'Prime Time' has revealed that just six years into a life sentence, Whelan has already been granted a number of escorted day releases to Cork.

"I feel like I have the right to have a safe life from him," said Sinéad. "This is where I live. This is where I'm from. This is where my family are. This is where Nichola's family are. I think that our needs should take precedence here - not his."

Normally a prisoner must have served seven years of a life sentence before their case is heard by the Parole Board.

However, RTÉ 'Prime Time' established that Whelan has already had four hearings before the Parole Board, which had recommended the escorted day releases, which in turn have been approved by the Justice Minister.

In 2002 Whelan pleaded guilty to murder and attempted murder. In an unprecedented move, the judge treated the crimes as separate offences and imposed consecutive sentences.

Whelan served the 15-year sentence for the attempted murder of Sinéad first. He got remission for good behaviour and only served three-quarters of that sentence. He began the life sentence for Nichola's murder in 2013.

The Sweeneys said they want Whelan to continue to serve his life sentence. But if he is given any form of release there should be an exclusion order preventing him from returning to Cork.

Irish Independent

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