sentencing | 

Clare nightclub stab victim’s mum says ‘I don’t know how to live without beautiful son’

Sharon Higgins said she suffered as killer Nathan O'Neill "could eat and breathe but I had to visit a headstone and kiss a picture of my child"

Jamie Higgins (23)


The mother of a young man who was stabbed to death in a nightclub following a St Patrick's Day celebration five years ago has spoken of the pain of knowing that her son's killer remained free for more than four years.

At a sentencing hearing today, Sharon Higgins called for justice for her son Jamie Higgins (23). She said she suffered as killer Nathan O'Neill "could eat and breathe but I had to visit a headstone and kiss a picture of my child".

She said she struggles every day and her health has deteriorated. She gets panic attacks, feeling that she is choking and gasping for air.

"I don't know how to live and cope every day without my beautiful son, the way he had to die is just so unfair."

Mr Higgins's partner Jade McNamara told the court that Jamie loved being a father and was the "most genuine, soft-hearted and generous person I have ever known".

She added: "Jamie was my best friend, the love of my life. Nothing could ever compare or come close to him. We were hardly ever apart, he would have given me his heart if he could."

The court also heard that O'Neill has previous convictions for possession of a knife, threatening to kill a shopping centre security guard and producing a hammer during the course of a dispute.

O'Neill (24) of Hill Top Drive, Dooradoyle, Limerick, was twice tried for murder after a jury failed to reach an agreement following his first trial in early 2022.

He had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to the manslaughter of Jamie Higgins at the Shannon Knights nightclub in Shannon, Co Clare, in the early hours of March 18, 2018. A jury acquitted him of murder and found him guilty of manslaughter last December following his second trial.

He also pleaded guilty to causing serious harm to Michael Shannon on the same date at the same place.

Det Sgt Kevin O'Hagan told prosecution counsel Lorcan Connolly BL that the defendant travelled from his home in Limerick to Shannon for St Patrick's Day 2018. By coincidence, the deceased and a group of friends had also travelled from Limerick and after watching an Ireland rugby game both groups ended up in the Shannon Knight's nightclub.

The court heard that the defendant and deceased knew one another and shortly after O'Neill arrived there was an "altercation" involving pushing and shoving and an allegation that a punch was thrown.

Tensions were high after that, the detective said, and the defendant left the club with another person but came back about 55 minutes later. He would later tell gardaí that after leaving the club he took a knife from a car and put it in his pocket for his protection.

When he returned to the nightclub another incident was captured on CCTV as the defendant and the deceased came together near the dance floor.

Det Sgt O’Hagan said that "words were exchanged" between Mr Higgins and O'Neill, and "they came almost face to face, Mr Higgins put his hand out towards the face of Nathan and jabbed out towards his face, stepped back and planted his foot and thrust his hands out towards Nathan".

There was grappling involving the defendant, Mr Shannon, and Mr Higgins before Mr Shannon fell to the floor and Mr Higgins separated himself and security guards intervened.

The fight lasted 10 to 12 seconds, Det Sgt O'Hagan said, and it later emerged that Mr Higgins had suffered five stab wounds to the abdomen and chest. The fatal wound penetrated his heart while another stab wound damaged his kidney and contributed to his death.

Mr Shannon had also been stabbed but his injuries were not life-threatening.

O'Neill left the nightclub and was found by gardaí crouched in undergrowth nearby. He had scratches from the brambles he was hiding under and had suffered a cut to his lip and some bruising.

Mr Higgins did not initially realise that he had been injured but he collapsed and despite efforts by staff, gardaí and paramedics, he was pronounced dead a short time later. The knife that O'Neill used was found on the ground near the dancefloor.

Det Sgt O'Hagan said following his arrest the accused was "forthright from the outset" about how he came to be at the nightclub, what happened and his history of interactions with the deceased. O'Neill told gardaí that he suffers from anxiety and armed himself with the knife following the first altercation "in case something else happened".

Det Sgt O'Hagan told the court that O'Neill has previous convictions for criminal damage and for producing a hammer during a dispute with a security guard at a shopping centre in Limerick on July 25, 2017. He was also convicted of threatening to kill the security guard. When gardaí searched him on that occasion they found a knife and he pleaded guilty to possession of the knife.

The deceased's mother Sharon Higgins said that her son was enthusiastic about everything he did in life and had "big goals and a big heart and a good head on his shoulders".

She said: "I was so proud to say I was the mother of Jamie, he was a beautiful person with a very big heart and a kind-hearted person. He was very understanding, he was kind and he was a great listener."

He loved being a father and his favourite time of year was Christmas.

"He used to buy me flowers and cards," she said. "Now I buy my son flowers."

She said his room remains untouched with all his medals and trophies that he won playing rugby, soccer and hurling. "I can't touch it because I can't accept he is not there any more," she said.

The deceased's sister Leanne said that the death of her loving, caring and kind brother will haunt her forever. She asked the court to give her brother "the justice he deserves" and said that O'Neill had not just killed one person but the whole family.

Det Sgt O'Hagan agreed with Alice Fawsitt SC for the defence that there was an allegation that Mr Higgins had punched O'Neill earlier on the night. Immediately before the stabbing, the detective agreed that O'Neill was jabbed in the face, held by Mr Shannon and Mr Higgins, and put in a headlock.

Ms Fawsitt told the court that her client was 19 at the time of the stabbing and has been described as a shy, mild-mannered young man with a history of anxiety and depression. He took responsibility for his offending.

In a letter penned by the defendant, O'Neill said he wants to "sincerely apologise to the family of the deceased for all they went through. I want to apologise for what happened that night and I always accepted responsibility for that. I didn't set out to cause harm, but I did, and I think about that every day."

Mr Justice Paul Burns said he has a lot to consider and adjourned sentencing until April 24.

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