Page last updated at 14:36 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

'Viking' killing of woman and son

Police handout of Kirsty O'Connell
Miss O'Connell became pregnant with Patrick aged 17

A 65-year-old man has been jailed for life for killing his partner and their son before laying him out in a Viking-style ritual.

James Conan strangled Kirsty O'Connell, 21, before stabbing her 20 times. He then played with their four-year-old son Patrick, before smothering him.

They were found at a flat in Woolford Close, Winchester, in August 2007. Patrick's body had a torch in one hand.

Conan was told he must serve a minimum of 16 years.

He pleaded guilty to murdering Miss O'Connell and to the manslaughter of Patrick, due to diminished responsibility.

The ritual nature of laying out is bizarre. It's as if the little boy has been sent off for a journey
Stewart Jones QC, prosecuting

The court was told Miss O'Connell had found out Conan was having an affair with another young woman and she told him to leave the flat.

On 3 August Conan, whose original surname was Walsh, killed Miss O'Connell and severed her jugular vein before lighting a cigarette and playing with Patrick, known as PJ, for half an hour.

Afterwards he took him to the main bedroom of their council flat, smothered him with a pillow and bathed him.

The youngster was then taken back to his room and "laid out ceremoniously" with items put around him, including a toy dagger and guns and a torch in his hand.

James Conan
Conan was described as controlling by friends of Miss O'Connell

A note from Conan was also placed near the body.

Stewart Jones QC, prosecuting, said: "The ritual nature of laying out is bizarre. It's as if the little boy has been sent off for a journey."

He told the court Conan had changed his name because it had significance in Nordic legend.

Mr Jones QC, added: "This may go some way to explain the boy being laid out."

Police officers went to the property after Miss O'Connell's family reported them both missing for several days.

The court was told Conan answered the door and said he had killed the pair.

'Obsessive'

Conan, a widower, had met Miss O'Connell when she was a schoolgirl as they were neighbours and her mother had taken pity on him and his mentally ill wife who has since died.

Miss O'Connell's mother would cook them meals that her daughter would take over.

Mr Jones said that soon Miss O'Connell and her friends were smoking and drinking at Conan's house and, aged 17, she became pregnant by Conan.

Police at scene of incident
The bodies were found at a council flat in Woolford Close, Winchester

She hid the pregnancy and the identity of the father from her family but when Miss O'Connell was then given a council flat, Conan moved in despite opposition from the family.

Friends of Miss O'Connell, who hoped to study law at university, said that the "obsessive" Conan was controlling and never let her out alone.

After finding out he had been having an affair, the couple argued and Conan then suffered "paroxysms of jealous and thwarted rage" which led to the attack.

The court was told three doctors agreed Conan had suffered a temporary abnormality of mind when he killed Miss O'Connell.

Justice Royce told Conan his crimes were "terrible offences".

He added: "You are in the autumn of your days, Kirsty and Patrick had their lives stretching out before them. Lives that were cruelly and selfishly and unforgivably cut short by you."

In a statement shortly after her death, Miss O'Connell's family described her as "a devoted mother and a much loved daughter".



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