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Murder trial hears fugitive shot Irishman dead during 'orgy of violence' on Costa del Sol

John O'Neill
John O'Neill

A British fugitive living under a false identity on the Costa del Sol shot dead an Irish dad-of-two after a petty pub row with another stranger, a court heard today.

Wanted Darren O'Flaherty, 42, went home to change his clothes and look for a gun before returning to murder innocent holidaymaker John O'Neill and shoot at other expats in an indiscriminate orgy of violence, a state prosecutor alleged.

The events leading up the killing of 'gentle giant' plasterer Mr O'Neill, from Coolock, north Dublin, were retold to a nine-strong jury at a criminal court in Malaga where O'Flaherty is standing trial.

The father-of-five from Liverpool - dressed in a white shirt, black tie and black trousers - sat impassively in handcuffs in the dock beside a translator as Rosa Romero told jurors he had shot his victim with the intention of ending his life at Coco's Bar in the popular resort of Benalmadena.

Claiming O'Flaherty's .38 revolver had failed when he pointed his gun at a father and his disabled son during the July 28, 2010 attack, she said: "He gave his victim absolutely no chance of defending himself when he killed him and under Spanish law that makes this a murder and not a simple homicide.

"The trigger was a petty row with a different man.

"Our main evidence is the CCTV footage at the bar which doesn't show the victim being killed but which you can hear the killer's shot on."

Telling the jury O'Flaherty was living in a nearby flat rented using a false passport in the name of William Anthony Doyle, she added: "He wasn't a tourist who had come here to have a good time.

"He was a man who hid his identity because he was wanted in the UK and was living here under a false name.

"He has never wanted to cooperate with the authorities. His reaction the day after his crime was to send a neighbour to try to recover his mobile phone which he realised he'd dropped in the bar and then flee the country."

Darren O'Flaherty

Mr O'Neill, who was on his first foreign holiday with his family including his son Jake, then three, and daughter Jasmine, then nine months, had attended a sunshine wedding the day before his life was ended.

He collapsed and died at a bus stop 50 yards from the bar in front of partner Maxine Sutcliffe after suffering a fatal wound to his stomach.

Bar manager James Walsh, who had thrown O'Flaherty out earlier that night after a row, and waiter Max Boon narrowly cheated death after the Brit shot at them but missed.

The suspect was held on a European arrest warrant while celebrating his birthday at a Chinese restaurant in north Wales in August 2013.

He was extradited to Spain in February 2015 to await trial after serving prison time in the UK for his role in a knifepoint hold-up.

O'Flaherty declined to take the witness stand after opening speeches by his lawyers and the state prosecutor, telling the court through his translator that he wouldn't answer any questions.

His defence team, led by Cristina Carrillo, said he was drunk and high on drugs the night of Mr O'Neill's death and had only a "hazy recollection" of what happened so would retain his right to silence.

Lawyer Oscar Chicarro, who spoke on his behalf in court, said his client had a psychological illness which had affected him along with the drink and drugs he had consumed.

He said: "His reaction was over the top but his intention was not to kill Mr O'Neill or the others in the bar that night, just to frighten them."

Coco's Bar in Benalmadena, the scene of the shooting

Prosecutors want O'Flaherty caged for 17 years if found guilty of the 40-year-old Irishman's murder.

They are also calling for a 12-year jail sentence for each of the two attempted murders he is charged with, plus an additional one year and six months for illegal firearms possession and the same prison sentence if convicted of using fake documentation to rent his flat.

They are further seeking €200,000 compensation for Mr O'Neill's children.

His defence lawyer told the jury he should be cleared of murdering Mr O'Neill because under Spanish law jurors who felt he had committed wrongdoing could convict him only of the lesser charge of homicide - and his mental health problems and drunkenness reduced his criminal responsibility.

The charge of homicide in Spain is a halfway house between manslaughter and murder and carries a 10 to 15-year prison sentence.

Mr O'Neill's aunt Peig Dowdall described her nephew after the killing as "a gorgeous, big soft guy, always with a smile on his face".

She added: "He was just in the wrong place."

Speaking on the anniversary of her partner's murder, Maxine said: "The last year has been devastating. There aren't words to describe what we went through.

"It was like you were living a nightmare and you didn't know when it was going to end and how.

"But the worst thing is, we're still going through it, every second of every day."

Recalling the moment she realised her 'best friend' had slipped away, she added: "I looked and I saw him lying on the pavement.

"I was running over to get to him but the police pushed me back. I told them I just needed to hold his hand but they said no."

The defendant's dad, who did not give his name, said outside court: "We are truly very sorry about what happened."

O'Flaherty is pleading not guilty. The trial, expected to last for around three days, continues tomorrow when Maxine Sutcliffe is due to give evidence by video-conference from Ireland.