‘A knife attack does so much damage’: One family's story

Noel Byrne's brother was stabbed 68 times by his wife Tanya in a nine-minute frenzied attack. Picture: Pat Moore

With an almost 60% increase in knife murders to 19 fatalities in 2014, a bereaved family member tells Cormac O’Keeffe of his continuing pain and grief

SIX years ago, what Noel Byrne feared would happen, did happen. But not even in his worst nightmares could he have imagined such a savage end to his brother’s life.

“Paul was stabbed previously by her and we felt it was going to be inevitable,” he says.

“But you only imagine it, you don’t really believe it would happen.”

Noel’s brother Paul had been stabbed twice on one occasion by his wife Tanya Doyle in 2006.

READ MORE: Families want set jail term for knife offences

They later separated and Doyle left for Portugal. When she returned he took her back in.

“She had nowhere to stay,” Noel says. “Paul was still very much in love with her and he put her up, though they were separated for a number of years.”

Noel was so concerned for his brother than he rang him almost every day.

“Because of my fears, I rang him at least four times a week. There was one time I rang and he didn’t answer. I left a message saying I would ring the gardaí if I didn’t hear back,” he says.

His brother rang and made light about his brother’s concern.

At around 7.15pm on September 4, 2009, Noel rang his brother, as they were due to meet up.

At that very moment, Doyle was driving a carving knife repeatedly into Paul’s body. More than 68 times in all.

All Paul’s organs were punctured: Brain, heart, kidneys, liver and lungs.

The frenzied attack lasted nine minutes and it took nine long minutes for Paul to die.

He was 48. An engineer by profession, Paul had no children.

Noel says a family member saw a television news bulletin at 11pm that night. There was a report of a fatality. She recognised the house in Pairc Gleann Trasna in Aylesbury that had been sealed off in Tallaght, Dublin.

‘A knife attack does so much damage’: One family's story

The family was alerted. Unfortunately, the gardaí had no next of kin and only contacted Noel’s father late the next morning.

“We knew there had been an incident. We knew there had been a death,” says Noel.

The guards had asked all the family to gather at the father’s house in Sallynoggin so they could talk to them. The family liaison officer told us that Noel had been killed the night before and that the circumstances were tragic,”says Noel.

At the time, he said the family wanted a “pile of information up front”, as they didn’t know the details of the murder.

“Looking back, realistically, if they had told us it would have been a lot more stressful.

“The grief, pain and suffering would have been overwhelming.”

He said the gardaí “stage managed” the process in terms of providing them with information.

“It worked quite well,” Noel says. “It allowed us to manage difficult pieces of information over a period of time, rather than getting it all together.

“For example, we were under the impression he was stabbed once and died quite quickly.”

It was a year later, before the inquest, that they learned Paul had been stabbed multiple times and took nine minutes to die.

“If we got that all up front it would have been unbearable. So, looking, back, I must admit the team of gardaí were just amazing.”

Noel says he and his other siblings — sisters Elaine and Lynn — had lost their mother, Annie, a year prior to Paul’s murder.

And a year after the murder, they lost their father, Tom. He had been suffering from cancer and had declined to take treatment.

“Paul’s death was very, very difficult for him. It was part of the reason why he didn’t take any treatment,” says Noel.

He said his father “couldn’t deal” with Paul’s murder and “isolated himself” from the investigation.

Some nine months before the trial started, Noel had to listen to something nobody should ever have to hear.

It turned out that Paul had dialled 999 when Doyle started attacking him and the call stayed active for the entire nine minutes of the attack.

“We were asked to do a voice recognition, but I suspect the gardaí wanted to prepare us for the trial, so we wouldn’t hear it there for the first time,” he says.

The recording captured the attack, his brother’s pleas for mercy and, near the end, a plea to be left die.

“We heard the attack, we heard the wounds. We felt we were there with him through the traumatic attack,” he says.

Noel said there was something horrific about a stabbing, particularly a multiple one.

“It is awful, it’s hard to explain. I don’t have the words to do so. A knife attack does so much damage. It’s inconceivable the damage it does externally and internally.”

Doyle was given a life sentence in March 2013, her term backdated to September 2009, to reflect her time spent in custody. But the sentence for Noel and the family doesn’t end there.

In a year’s time, Doyle will be eligible to apply for parole.

“I think it’s appalling,” says Noel.

“We should have some sort of tariff system like England and elsewhere.”

He noted the 23-year minimum term Alexander Pacteau must serve in prison in Scotland for the murder of Cork woman Karen Buckley before he can even be considered for parole.

“If he was here, he could apply for parole after seven years. That seems to be a huge disparity.”

If Doyle’s looming entitlement to apply for parole was not enough, Noel and family have also been fighting Doyle’s entitlement to Paul’s pension, which could be worth up to €1m.

The Law Reform Commission has recommended that the laws be changed so that someone who kills his or her spouse is not entitled to their half of the property or their pension or life insurance.

Noel pointed out that Doyle had said in a statement to investigating gardaí that her motivation was financial.

Noel said they were waiting to see if Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will do what she has said she would do and introduce legislation on the area in the coming months.

“Fingers crossed the minister will. If she does, it will be some sort of consolation.”

The reminders are constant for Noel and family, whether it’s the recent spate of knife attacks and glassing incidents at pubs or the multiple stabbing of a young man in rural Co Offaly earlier this month.

“There does seem to be a lot of incidents in the last number of weeks, an increase in knife crime. Whether it’s street knife crime or domestic stabbings it resonates, particularly domestic ones. You think ‘oh my goodness, that’s absolutely horrific’.

“You realise what that person’s family is going through. It doesn’t matter if it’s gangland or a family in Ballsbridge, the effect is still the same,” he says.


READ MORE: Families want set jail term for knife offences


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