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Family adored bubbly and loving pensioner

INNOCENT pensioner Maire Rankin (81) had said her bedtime prayers and was settling down in her rocking chair to watch midnight Mass on RTE when her intercom buzzed.

It was her next-door neighbour Karen Walsh, ostensibly with a Christmas card and present, but according to the prosecution, looking for a place to drink following an argument with her husband.

Despite concerns raised by her family, who had advised Mrs Rankin she shouldn't let Walsh into her home, the grand-mother buzzed her in.

It was some time after 11.30pm on Christmas Eve.

She cannot have known her decision to let Walsh into her home would lead to her death.

Mrs Rankin's family have said their mother was wary of Walsh in the months before her killing.

Mrs Rankin's youngest daughter Brenda said: "It wasn't that mammy didn't like her, it's just she thought she was intrusive, she wasn't the sort of person mammy would have been comfortable with."

The Rankin family believe Karen Walsh is a "very dangerous person". They point out that she didn't just lash out at their mother, she climbed onto her bed, took down the family crucifix and assaulted her with it.

"It upsets me that the last voice mammy heard was Karen Walsh and the last face she looked at was Karen Walsh", said Brenda Rankin.

Her older sister, Emily Rankin said her mother "died alone and frightened".

"She had the right to feel secure in her own home but because of her trusting nature and kindness she was subjected to a frenzied assault and horrific murder. She was deprived of a dignified death in the company of her family."

During the 10-day trial, Belfast Crown Court heard Mrs Rankin was a "strong-willed, independent woman", who was adamant she would remain so.

She was fun-loving and loved children, and would not have approved of the defendant's lifestyle, or that she lived during the week in a hotel in Dublin.

When daughter Aine Brodie spoke to her Mrs Rankin on the phone around 10.40pm on Christmas Eve she was "bright, chatty and bubbly". She had not mentioned she was expecting any visitors.

"She was looking forward to Christmas with her grandchildren," said Mrs Brodie.