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Sunday 17 November 2019

Cheap drink can ruin lives, says mother of one-punch victim (20)

Tragic Luke O’Reilly and his mum Janet O’Brien
Tragic Luke O’Reilly and his mum Janet O’Brien
Luke O’Reilly was killed in a one-punch attack by Jack Hall Ellis
Jack Hall Ellis. Photo: Collins Photo Agency

The mother of a young man who died in an unprovoked one-punch attack nearly two years ago has urged young people to think twice when they are out drinking as "you can ruin your life and others".

Janet O'Brien's family was plunged into a nightmare following the tragic death of Luke O'Reilly (20) who passed away after the Halloween night attack.

She said her gruelling treatment for breast cancer was nothing compared to the pain of losing her gentle and loveable son, who was 6ft 3in.

The heartbroken mother told the Herald that she feels there are too many cheap alcohol offers, with an increase in the number of one-punch attacks.

Anger

In June this year, apprentice carpenter Jack Hall Ellis (21), who had admitted the unlawful killing, was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment, with the final two years suspended.

He told gardai he was acting in "drunkenness and anger" when he punched Luke once from behind without warning as they left a pub on October 31, 2017.

Luke, an accountancy student at Crumlin College, fell and hit his head on the ground, causing traumatic brain injuries which led to his death in hospital two weeks later.

Janet, who has another son Sean (20) and daughter Ali (14) as well as two stepsons, Chris (23) and Ian (21), with her husband Gary Higgins, said that with the second anniversary of Luke's death approaching, "you just constantly feel sick, you just can't believe that he is not here. It is just horrendous".

There was further trauma for the family when Janet was subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2018, and she underwent a rigorous treatment regime, including chemotherapy.

Thankfully the treatment was successful, but she said that undergoing many months of treatment was nothing compared to the pain of losing her much-loved son.

Janet who lives in Tallaght, said that her eldest son was very caring toward others, having suffered with depression himself.

"He had dyslexia and he had Asperger's, so he had everything thrown at him," she said.

College

"Because of all the little issues that he had, we were always going to an appointment, we were always going somewhere together."

She said he would always say: "Mam, can you come with me?"

"Even that last night, me, him and Ali went to the pictures and went for something to eat on Halloween night."

His pals texted him and he ended up going out for a few drinks.

"He was in good form. He had assignments for college and when we got back to the house, I was saying: 'Luke it's kind of late now, and you have your assignments tomorrow'.

"He was grinning away at me, and you knew once the grin was there you had lost your battle."

She said that what happened later that night - when her son sustained fatal brain injuries - had plunged the family into "one bad long dream".

She said that in sentencing, Judge Melanie Greally was really recognising that these one-punch assaults "were now commonplace, it's awful to say".

Janet is now urging other young people to think about the consequences of such an attack.

"Look, it's not going to help us any more," she said.

"It's not going to bring Luke back now."

She pointed out that even for the person who is throwing the punch, for their own lives, and their families, "the knock-on effects are horrific all round".

Janet also has concerns around the proliferation of cheap alcohol. She said she knew that people should be accountable for their own actions and for what they are drinking, but some bars doing student deals are offering drinks for "ridiculous" prices, she said.

Luke would have been 21 on August 2, 2018, and such landmarks are very sad for his family who miss him so much.

Janet has just begun to go back to work as a hairdresser in recent weeks after having to take time off in the aftermath of the tragedy.

"I had a great counsellor," she said.

"I wanted to meet the ambulance people that had looked after Luke, because I believe that we could have lost him on the night, but because of them we got to have him another two weeks.

"He was in Beaumont so we were able to have him and hold him. I was really grateful to the ambulance people for that."

She said she met them in June last year.

"It did help me. Different things keep coming over you, these really strong feelings.

"I just really wanted to shake their hands, and I think they were really pleased as well.

"They were so amazing," she added.

The brave mum made the selfless decision to donate Luke's organs to help others, because she knew that that was what he would have wanted, and as a result, three lives were saved.

When he died, it was touching to see how much the popular lad had meant to so many, people, and she paid tribute to his friends.

"The young fellas call here to the door, they call with flowers, and they call with a card and they keep in touch with Sean and Ali and make sure everybody is doing OK."

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