You Can Tell Me
"I Love You. PS Did You Kill Her?"
The long and distressing controversy over capital punishment is very unfair to anyone meditating murder.
- Geoffrey Fisher
Is it hard for the reader to believe that suicides are sometimes committed to forestall the committing of
- Karl A Menninger
Rough justice: Bernard O'Mahoney
by Julia Stuart
By posing as a lonely young woman, Bernard O'Mahoney has coaxed several alleged killers into confessing their guilt. He's censorious about people who profit from crime, but is handsomely paid by the tabloids. Now, one of his victims is suing him.
Laurna-Jane Stevens was a young, auburn-haired dance instructor from London. Although she didn't actually know Shaun Armstrong, or Tony, as he was called, she decided to write to him in prison in July 1994, after he was arrested for the murder of 3-year-old Rosie Palmer. The toddler had gone to buy a lolly from an ice-cream van just yards from her home in Hartlepool, Teesside, and never returned home. Three days later, her partly-clothed body was found, battered and sexually abused, in a bin liner in Armstrong's cupboard.
Laurna-Jane wrote to Armstrong in prison, saying that people were innocent until proven guilty. Up until his trial, she wrote around 50 such letters, chatting about her life, sympathising with him and asking him how the case was going. Armstrong, who had denied the crime in court, fell for her and wrote around 80 letters back, eventually confessing to the murder, and to the fact that he was going to admit to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, though he was mentally "fit as a fiddle". Laurna-Jane gave the letters to the police, and Armstrong, confronted with their content, subsequently pleaded guilty to murder. He received a life sentence.
But Laurna-Jane wasn't a dancer. She wasn't even a woman. The letters were written by Bernard O'Mahoney; a bouncer with around 15 convictions including wounding, grievous bodily harm, robbery, firearms and public order offences, and who had served a total of 21 months in prison.
O'Mahoney was working for the News of the World, which also provided a female reporter whom Armstrong occasionally rang, believing her to be Laurna-Jane. After the trial the headline in the paper gloated: "How News of the World Trapped Rosie's Killer - We Fooled Fiend into Confessing His Guilt."
Last year, O'Mahoney wrote again to Armstrong to solicit his views on his crime for a book that he was planning about Armstrong and other child killers he had written to. In response, O'Mahoney received a writ from the murderer's solicitor demanding up to £15,000 in damages and the return of the letters. Armstrong alleges that the private letters detailing his crime were obtained under false pretences, and his privacy was breached when they were handed to the police. He claims he is entitled to damages or a share of the profits gained by using any material in the letters.
O'Mahoney, 41, now a construction worker, is sitting in a hotel bar in his work clothes - a brown waxed jacket over a green rugby shirt, jeans and black boots. A scar runs down his forehead, missing his right eye, and starting up again underneath it. Another tracks horizontally across his fat neck like a trail left by a snail.
"I would cut my own throat before I paid," he says. "I couldn't morally give him anything." He says that a member of the public has offered to pay part of his legal fees, but he turned him down. "I wouldn't like to think of anyone's money being wasted on Armstrong. I think Rosie Palmer had a right to life, never mind a private life, which he took away. And when he'd done that, he propelled himself into the media spotlight, and therefore, in my opinion, he lost all his right to privacy by leading that girl away to an unimaginable death." He plans to send Armstrong's future parole-board hearings the more horrific details of his crime and his thoughts on it, all gleaned from his correspondence.
O'Mahoney, who calls himself a "reformed criminal" and lives in a rented flat in Peterborough with his girlfriend, Emma Turner, 28, a bank worker, insists that he had already decided that any money made from the book would go to charity. "There's something distasteful about making money out of dead kids," he says, despite the fact that he was paid £3,000 by the News of the World for his correspondence with Armstrong.
O'Mahoney and the News of the World had already successfully played the sting before, first with Peter Sutcliffe (who had already been convicted), and then with Richard Blenkey, who was on remand for the murder of 7-year-old Paul Pearson. O'Mahoney wrote (as a man) to Blenkey, who also eventually confessed in a letter and was imprisoned for life.
O'Mahoney was paid £3,000 by the newspaper after the conviction.
"You've got to show sympathy for them, and friendship," O'Mahoney explains. "When they commit those crimes, they're segregated from other prisoners as well. People spit in their food and abuse them, verbally and physically. They ain't got nothing, and quite rightly so, and so when this letter comes offering them some humanity, nine times out of 10 they will take it.
"Armstrong was planning to deny it, so I wrote to him and he wrote back straight away," he says. "He was like a lunatic - he proposed marriage to her and all sorts. He said how much he liked her, how great it was to have someone he could trust, that he could tell her anything. He said he wanted to spend his life with her if he ever got out. I had a go at him, I said he was being stupid. You don't want to go down that road, you don't want letters full of crap, you want letters about his crime. He wrote back and apologised.
"In the end he wrote quite clearly that the only reason why he done it was because he was drunk, and that he was guilty of the murder. He added: 'Please don't tell anyone', which I thought was touching."
O'Mahoney's letter-writing skills also helped secure the conviction of David Copeland, the London nail bomber, whose targets included the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho. During the trial last year, the Old Bailey heard how Copeland had fallen in love with lonely secretary Patsy Scanlon, who began writing to him shortly after his arrest. Copeland wrote that he dreamed about her wearing sexy clothing, and could not wait for her to visit him in Broadmoor. The letters were a key element in the bomber's court case, as the prosecution used them as evidence of his state of mind. Afterwards, they filled two pages of The Mirror.
O'Mahoney insists he does it for the pleasure of "seeing the bastards locked up". "I get immense pleasure out of it. Some people protest about roads and the local bus service, I just don't like those people, full stop. I've got kids and I can't get my head round what these people do." O'Mahoney refers to his late father by way of explanation. "I grew up with a real sense of injustice because of the way my father was. He used to beat me black and blue, and there was real bad mental torture as well. He broke plates in my mother's face, over her head, fractured her cheekbone, broke her nose. He was just a psychopath.
"He always taught us never to let people hurt you, and if someone hit you at school, even as a 10-year-old, he would give you a hammer to take to school. And if you said they were bigger than you, he'd say hit them from behind. You'd go to school feeling like a bomb waiting to go off. And when you'd see other kids being happy, you used to despise their happiness, and that makes you angry, and then you'd be fighting other kids, and teachers would be saying you're no good."
His first dealings with the police came at the age of 14, when he was charged with using obscene language. He claims he was "badly treated" by them as a youth, and grew up hating them. It was that hatred, he says, which led to him to campaigning for the release of sisters Michelle and Lisa Taylor, who were convicted of murdering Alison Shaughnessy in 1991. He says it wasn't about freeing the Taylors, it was about getting at the police. He readily admits that he intimidated witnesses. The sisters' convictions were deemed unsafe, and they were released in 1993. O'Mahoney started writing a book about the case with them, and had a three-month affair with Michelle, which ended acrimoniously. Later this month sees the publication of The Dream Solution, in which he claims that they were guilty after all.
Shaun Armstrong and the Taylor sisters
His devotion to their release cost him his relationship with his then partner of 13 years and the mother of his children, now aged 11 and 14. "I regret the way I am," he says. "I'm stupid and bloody-minded, if I get involved in something, I won't give it up. I'm stubborn and stupid. I can't help it - if something gets to me, I can't ignore it."
Source: The Tuesday Review - The Independent 18 September 2001 O'Mahoney's photo credit Gavin Fogg/PA/Reuters
"I hate Alison, the unwashed bitch. My Dream solution would be for Alison to disappear as if she never existed and then maybe i could give everything to the man i love."
These words of hate scribbled in a diary helped convict sisters Michelle and Lisa Taylor of the savage murder of newly wed Alison Shaughnessy. Alison had been stabbed 54 times during a frenzied attack in her own home. At their sensational trial the prosecution alleged that 21-year-old Michelle Taylor who had been having an affair with Alison's husband - had murdered Alison in a jealous rage and that she was aided in her brutal attack by her 18-year-old sister Lisa. The case was reported in the tabloid press under lurid headlines such as "Love Crazy Mistress Butchered Rival Wife". The jury found the Taylor sisters guilty of murder. Incredibly, having served less than one year of their sentences, the Taylor sisters were freed thanks in part to a exhaustive campaign by Bernard O'Mahoney.
Bernard, having witnessed their trial, was convinced that a major miscarriage of justice had occurred and with his help their appeal was successful. Following their release O'Mahoney sat down with the sisters to write a book about their ordeal It was at this time that he and Michelle Taylor began a passionate affair. He first became suspicious when she began behaving towards him in the obsessive way the prosecution alleged she had behaved towards her former lover, Alison's husband. As O'Mahoney tried to extricate himself from the affair he stumbled across an incriminating letter that could mean only one thing: Michelle Taylor was guilty of Alison's murder.
Following a heated confrontation she finally broke down and confessed her guilt. The sisters fought for years in the high court to gag O'Mahoney. But in a legal battle almost as dramatic as the one that saw the sisters freed, O'Mahoney won the case. The Dream Solution tells the story of his two crusades - the first to prove the sisters' innocence, the second to be allowed to tell the world of their guilt. At a time when a series of high-profile cases have undermined public confidence in the judicial system, this book provides incontrovertible proof of a different sort of miscarriage of justice - one in which the guilty have been set free.
Source: Bernard O'Mahoney's website bernardomahoney.com
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