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HEARTBREAK Jennifer Dornan's best friend says she'll never get over murder as killer gets life

"Seeing him (O'Neill), it was so, so hard. I've never felt hate before but I would gladly do damage to him"

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Nadine Fennell in her home yesterday clutching a picture of Jennifer

Nadine Fennell in her home yesterday clutching a picture of Jennifer

Nadine Fennell in her home yesterday clutching a picture of Jennifer

Nadine Fennell is haunted by the last memories of her best friend.

There's a huge hole and a host of regrets in Nadine's life, but the final words she exchanged with Jennifer Dornan - brutally stabbed to death in her Belfast home in 2015 - will live with her the rest of her life.

Nadine and Jenni should have been enjoying a drink together that night in August seven years ago, instead it was the night from hell.

She can't shake the feeling her best friend would still be alive if she was at her side and hopes her killer rots behind bars.

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Young mother Jennifer Dornan whose killer was convicted of murder this week

Young mother Jennifer Dornan whose killer was convicted of murder this week

Young mother Jennifer Dornan whose killer was convicted of murder this week

Last week Belfast man Raymond Martin Gabrial O'Neill was found guilty of Jennifer's murder.

O'Neill (43) had previously denied murdering the 30-year-old mother of three and then setting fire to her house. But a jury unanimously convicted him of murder and arson.

Members of Jennifer's family clapped and cheered in court as the verdicts were announced.

O'Neill will serve an automatic life sentence. The minimum amount of time he must serve in prison before being considered for parole will be handed down at a later date.

Jenni was found in her burnt-out home in Lagmore, west Belfast, in August 2015.

She had been stabbed three times in the chest with a knife from her own kitchen. One of the blows had entered her heart.

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Jennifer’s burned-out home in west Belfast.

Jennifer’s burned-out home in west Belfast.

Jennifer’s burned-out home in west Belfast.

 

For Nadine it was the ultimate bittersweet moment - satisfaction that O'Neill will pay for his stomach-churning crime, devastation at the loss of her friend.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday World, the heartbroken mum of seven spoke of her devastating loss and how her life has changed for ever.

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"When Jenni died I did too, I died, I'm not the same person. I was lively, I was like the life and soul - not now."

Nadine and Jenni had an unbreakable bond. The night O'Neill killed her friend before torching her home has left her broken.

"We've been best friends for years, we just clicked, Jesus, you can't imagine how important she was to me and my family."

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Her killer Raymond O’Neill

Her killer Raymond O’Neill

Her killer Raymond O’Neill

 

She recalls the fateful night, the night that tipped her world. The pair had been planning their usual drink together, they would alternate between homes but Nadine was unwell.

"My children called her auntie, and on the night she died we weren't meant to be going out and that kills me because she came in and said 'c'mon you' it's drink o'clock'."

And she had a present for her, tickets to see UB40 at the Féile in the west of the city.

"I never got to see them because the tickets were burned in the house.

"I was one of the last people to see her alive. I wasn't well and I wish that I would have been able to be there that night because if I was by her side she'd still be alive."

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A knife similar to the one he used to killer her

A knife similar to the one he used to killer her

A knife similar to the one he used to killer her

Her memory is of a loving mother, devoted to her kids.

"She was stunning, I know everybody says when someone dies, that they're this wonderful person, but she was, we never left each other's sides apart from that night.

"We will never ever get another Jenni, and she was Jenni with an 'i', we slagged her as in 'Jenni from the Block'.

Jenni's death has had a huge impact on Nadine's life, she has been left distraught, frightened, anxious and grief-stricken. From a lively, outgoing person, she has retreated into herself.

"I don't go out anymore, my life ended when my best friend died.

"I have anxiety, I'm not the same person to my children, I'm terrified when they're not in my sights."

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Jennifer, left, on a night out with Nadine, front, and friends

Jennifer, left, on a night out with Nadine, front, and friends

Jennifer, left, on a night out with Nadine, front, and friends

 

Being in court when the jury dismissed O'Neill's pleadings as a tissue of lies was bittersweet, but most of all it was the hardest thing she has ever had to go through.

"Seeing him, it was so, so hard. I've never, ever felt hate, never felt hate before but I would gladly do damage to him.

"The feeling when we got the result (verdict) was unreal, I was happy but I was very sad because when it comes down to it, it's an end of an era, it's the end of my beautiful, beautiful friend's life and until the conviction I didn't know whether to celebrate or put my head in my hands and cry which I've done every single day since Jennifer died.

"My eyes have been opened to the world, I'm scared, I'm scared for my kids, for my sisters, I never ever thought there would be such evil in my life."

She gets some small crumbs of comfort from the knowledge Jenni would have fought for her life.

"Jenni, she was big, she was tall, a big gentle giant, and I'm telling you now without doubt, she fought for her life."

Another cruel twist was Jenni was due to go on holiday with her kids - a first sun-kissed trip to Spain, and she was so excited.

That last fateful night Jenni showed her friend the clothes she'd bought for her holiday, standing in the driveway because Nadine was sick.

"The last words she said to me "I'm going home to soak my hooves and give myself a bit of a pedicure and sure I'll see you at the UB40 concert."

The pair hugged and kissed, but little did they know.

The final insult was that O'Neill rifled Jenni's kids' money boxes, money they had saved for their first holiday with their mum.

"What a bastard," said Nadine.

paula.mackin@sundayworld.com

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