Loyalist taxi driver suspected of supplying drugs which snatched lives of tragic twins

Thirty-seven-year-old twins Claire and Stephen O’Neill were found unconscious in the early hours of last Saturday

Claire O’Neill was a mum of three, while brother Stevie, right, was a father of one

Claire O'Neill

Stevie O'Neill

Police at the scene in Annadale

Hugh JordanSunday World

A taxi driver is suspected of supplying the deadly drugs which snatched the lives of tragic twins Claire and Stephen O’Neill.

His full identity is known to the Sunday World and we can reveal he is a long-term and trusted member of the UDA in south Belfast.

Now a grandfather, he was once in charge of the loyalist terror group’s youth wing in the Ormeau/Annadale area – but these days he sorts out neighbourhood disputes.

We have been told he was one of several UDA men who fled the area following the brutal IRA execution of UDA members Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder.

Bratty and Elder were ruthlessly gunned down in broad daylight on the Ormeau Road shortly before the IRA called its ceasefire.

It is understood the taxi driver went to ground earlier this week amid rumours he is wanted for questioning by his paramilitary bosses.

Loyalist sources say he hasn’t been seen at his home or at a property where he routinely spent the weekends with his girlfriend.

“He’s lying low at the moment, but it’s only a matter of time before this catches up with him. The cops know all about this and so does the UDA,” a source told us.

Police at the scene in Annadale

Thirty-seven-year-old twins Claire and Stephen O’Neill were found unconscious in the early hours of last Saturday.

The siblings died side by side in a ground-floor apartment Claire shared with her partner and their five year-old son in the Annadale area of south Belfast.

Police and emergency rescue services rushed to the property at Annadale Crescent in numbers around 2.45am last Saturday shortly after the twins’ dead bodies were discovered.

After receiving a phone call from a man who was staying in Claire O’Neill’s flat, police raced to the property.

At one stage two fire engines, three ambulances and five police cars were crammed into the narrow street near the River Lagan Embankment.

Firefighters used breathing apparatus to enter the property before pronouncing it safe for police officers to enter.

Two men inside were rushed to hospital where they underwent emergency treatment for suspected drugs inhalation. It is understood they are still in a serious condition.

But shortly after 9am, neighbours huddled together in shock and disbelief as the bodies of twins Claire and Stevie O’Neill were carried out in bags.

Claire O'Neill

On Saturday afternoon, police confirmed two people had died at the property. But a statement released only after the Sunday World contacted the PSNI press office omitted to reveal the suspected cause of death.

Portmortem examinations carried out on the next day simply confirmed the deaths weren’t considered suspicious.

The O’Neill twins – who were known to be very close – had attended a gathering in their parents’ David and Marie’s home in nearby Whitehall Parade, where they all enjoyed a family meal together.

And afterwards the twins went to Claire’s apartment in Annadale Crescent for a party. Other friends living in the same street were invited to join them and it is believed the taxi driver supplied drugs.

A mum of three, Claire Michelle O’Neill was a well-known and popular member of the local community which at one time was staunchly loyalist, but in recent years has become much more mixed.

Claire’s mum Marie was originally from Hamill Street in the Divis area of west Belfast, but she moved to south Belfast after she married her husband Davie O’Neill.

Together they raised a family of three sons and two daughters including twins Claire and Stephen.

As a youngster, Claire worked in a local newspaper and grocery store where she was a popular member of staff.

Even after she became a teenage mum, she was still a regular on the Ormeau Road.

Neighbours say she was bursting with pride when her eldest son became a soldier.

But like many of her generation, Claire developed an addiction to drugs. Her problem brought her into conflict with state agencies. And last year, she was required to attend a corrective course.

Stevie O'Neill

Friends in Annadale say Claire was completely open with neighbours and friends about her addiction problems, which she was determined to overcome.

One of them said this week: “Claire was a lovely person and she was frank and honest about her difficulties with drugs. But she had done well with her recovery programme and we all thought it was behind her.”

She added: “The entire Annadale and Ormeau Road areas are devastated about this tragedy. Drugs are a major problem everywhere and we all feel so sorry for the family.”

Like his twin sister, Stephen O’Neill was also a well-known and popular figure on the Ormeau and Annadale areas of south Belfast, where he had lived all of his life.

A father of one, Stevie, as he was known, worked at the Interior & Floor Design Ltd, based in Carryduff. He had been employed by them just short of 20 years.

And earlier this week the company placed a heartfelt tribute to its esteemed former colleague on its Facebook page.

It read: ‘It’s with great sadness and heavy hearts that we at IFD inform you of the sudden and unexpected death of our colleague and friend Stephen O’Neill alongside his twin sister Claire O’Neill on Saturday 4th February 2023.’

Stephen had recently signed up for a 56-mile challenge run as part of a fundraiser for cancer research. And he and his twin sister had also set up a fundraising Facebook page in aid of cancer research.

The O’Neill twins will be buried together on Wednesday in Roselawn Cemetery in east Belfast.

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