A man who killed his former partner with a shotgun in the Portstewart launderette where she worked was handed a minimum sentence of 13 years for her “tragic and traumatic” murder on Monday.
Marion Millican died in March 2011 after she was shot in the chest with a double-barrelled shotgun brandished by her former partner Fred McClenaghan.
As Mr Justice Colton told 55-year-old McClenaghan, from Broad Street in Magherafelt, that he will serve a minimum of 13 years in prison before he is considered eligible for release, the judge spoke of the devastating impact Mrs Millican’s murder has had on her loved ones.
Saying the 51-year-old mother of four’s death “will resonate with her family and friends for the rest of their lives”, Mr Justice Colton said: “I recognise that the loss of Mrs Millican’s life cannot be measured by the length of a prison sentence.
“There is no term of imprisonment that I can impose that will reconcile Mrs Millican’s family and friends to their loss, not will it cure their anguish.”
During sentencing, the judge noted McClenaghan’s continual denials that he murdered his former partner.
After separating from her husband, Mrs Millican started a relationship with McClenaghan at the beginning of 2010 - but by the end of the year she had ended things as he had been violent to her on at least two occasions.
Around the end of 2010 she and her husband were working on a reconciliation. Just three months later, on the afternoon of Friday March 11, 2011, McClenaghan entered his former girlfriend’s workplace on Portstewart’s Promenade.
As Mrs Millican and her work colleague and friend were eating lunch, McClenaghan walked into the premises carrying a gun and told his former partner “you are coming with me for a talk”.
Mrs Millican told McClenaghan she didn’t want to leave and be bundled into a car, and at that stage McClenaghan fired a shot into the ground between the two women.
The colleague fled into the staff toilet before managing to run from the launderette and to a nearby bar, where she raised the alarm.
Minutes later, Mrs Millican’s body was found lying face down in a pool of blood. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Around an hour after the murder, McClenaghan contacted a woman in Kilrea and told her “I shot a girl in Portstewart”.
He was arrested later that day, and took officers to the area where he discarded the shotgun. During police interviews, he refused to answer questions - but his solicitor handed police a statement on behalf of McClenaghan which said: “It was my intention to kill myself in front of Marion, who would witness my suicide.”
Since March 2011, McClenaghan denied murder. However, three days into the latest trial - which was being held at Belfast Crown Court in September - he dramatically changed his stance and finally admitted a charge of murder.
Mr Justice Colton said this plea had brought “justice and relief” to her family, as well as McClenaghan “acknowledging his guilt for her death”.
The judge said he accepted that at the time of the fatal shooting, McClenaghan was being treated for depression and had expressed suicidal tendencies.
However, Mr Justice Colton also noted how McClenaghan had talked about killing his former partner, and that on the day of the murder, Mrs Millican was “taken by surprise at her place of work” by a man who had armed himself in advance.
The court also heard that McClenaghan had “relevant previous convictions” for violence, and had also attacked Mrs Millican on at least two prior occasions.
Mr Justice Colton said that in this case, there can be “no happy outcome”, but said the “uncertainty” that had been hanging over this case for the past six years had now gone.
After handing McClenaghan a minimum sentence of 13 years, the judge confirmed that the time McClenaghan has already spend in custody - since his arrest in March 2011 - will be included in the sentence.
The judge also agreed to a request from the Crown that the shotgun used to murder Mrs Millican be destroyed