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long-awaited Family of woman murdered alongside two children welcome new parole bill

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John Whelan

John Whelan

John Whelan

THE HEARTBROKEN family of a woman murdered alongside two children on Christmas morning in 2008 has welcomed an announcement that life sentence killers will not now be eligible for parole until 12 years into their sentence.

But Sharon Whelan’s brother John said while “it’s very welcome, families will never feel like they have received justice until life means life.”

Announcing details of the implementation of the Parole Act 2019 yesterday, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said: “The Act increases the length of the sentence which must be served by life sentenced prisoners before they are even eligible to be considered for parole, from 7 to 12 years.”

30-year-old Sharon Whelan and the two children, who cannot currently be identified for legal reasons, died at the hands of Brian Hennessy on Christmas morning, 2008, at their home.

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Brian Hennessy

Brian Hennessy

Brian Hennessy

The monster broke into the house in Windgap, Co Kilkenny, raped and strangled Sharon, then set a fire to cover his tracks.

Two children also perished in the inferno.

These children cannot be identified because of a recent decision by the Court of Appeal that the media cannot name a deceased child victim of crime.

Postman Hennessy was handed three consecutive life terms after being convicted of all three murders in 2009, but the sentences were softened — to run concurrently — following a successful appeal.

In the wake of the appeal, Sharon’s bother John set up the Sentencing and Victim Equality (SAVE) group.

The group campaigns for a minimum tariff on life sentences before a murderer can be paroled and for convicted murderers to be automatically placed on the sex offenders’ list if there is a sexual element to the crime.

Speaking with the Sunday World, John told us: “I made a promise to Sharon and the children the day his (Hennessy’s) sentences were adjusted in the Court of Appeal to allow him serve all three life sentences at once.

“As soon as I heard this was the judgement, I just thought to myself that’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s not just.

“So I am determined that the legislation will be changed and that killers will face minimum tariff sentencing here the same way they do in the UK.”

Speaking of Christmas Day, John told how “each year the family light candles in memory of Sharon and the children.”

“We light a candle and remember them.

“Mam and dad go to the grave every morning at 7 am and every single evening as well,” he said.

For John the battle to achieve justice for all victims of homicide has become a passion for him that he is determined to see through.

“Unfortunately, because of Covid, this year has been a slow grind,” he said.

“Our main goal is in achieving sentencing reform and for a minimum tariff sentence like they have in the UK, where killers serve a minimum 25 or 35 year sentence before they can even apply for parole, is introduced.

“In this country, when killers are sentenced to life, people think that that is final.

“They don’t realise that under the present system killers can seek parole just seven years later.

“Hennessy sought parole after just seven years and we had to write a letter to the parole board pleading our case for keeping him behind bars.

“His application was refused a year and a half later but he is due to file another application in late 2021.

“The horrifying part is that this means we have to write another letter pleading our case all over again.

“And that’s completely wrong.

“We could refuse to do it … but if we did and he got out, we’d never forgive ourselves.”

John says Hennessy’s sentence highlights a huge number of wrongs that need to be addressed in the justice system.

“He is effectively serving just one life sentence now and no-one can tell me whether it is Sharon or one of the children he is serving that sentence for.

“All three were citizens of this state, who contributed so much to the lives of their family and society.

“But the murders of two of them are not being acknowledged.

“Nor was Hennessy ever prosecuted for rape … which means he won’t even be placed on the sex offenders register when he gets out.

“I know that any changes to the law we manage to get brought in will not be applied retrospectively.

“But 60 to 70 people die by homicide every year in this country leaving 60 to 70 more families to deal with these issues.

“That’s why we are doing this – for all the victims of homicide and their families.

“The law when it comes to sentencing in this country is not fit for purpose – and I hope we can prevent other families suffering from it the way we have had to.”


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