Died 17th March 2014
Cherylee Shennan (40) was murdered on Hardman Avenue in Rawtenstall in Lancashire on 17th March 2014, dying of multiple stab wounds. She was the mother of a 12 year old daughter and worked as a beautician.
In June 2014, at Preston Crown Court, Paul O’Hara (41) admitted Ms Shennan’s murder and the wounding and assault of two police officers.
O’Hara was jailed for life for Ms Shennan’s murder and given a whole-life tariff. O’Hara was also sentenced to 10 years for attacking one police officer and two years for the assault on the other.
O’Hara had been Ms Shannon’s partner. Her murder was the second homicide of a woman which he had committed. In 1998, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Janine Waterworth, in “very similar circumstances”. He killed her just three days after she ended their relationship, stabbing her 12 times. He was released early on licence in 2013 after serving only 14 years.
Prior to that, in 1994, O’Hara had been sent to prison for two years for wounding and GBH. Once again the victims were women. He wounded one of them and broke the arm of another by throwing her to the floor.
Lancashire Police said Detective Sergeant Damien McAllister and Detective Constable Karen Kenworthy went to Ms Shennan’s home on the 17th March after the probation service had informed them of reports of domestic violence towards Ms Shennan by O’Hara.
Within minutes of their arrival, O’Hara forced his way into Ms Shennan’s home, attacking her with a claw hammer and turning on the police officers as they tried to intervene. He came into the house shortly after police arrived with the claw hammer inside a plastic bag. DS Damien McAlister and DC Karen Kenworthy tried to calm O’Hara down but he started to attack Ms Shennan with the hammer. Ms Shennan broke free and went to the back of the house but O’Hara caught up with her and started to strangle her. The police managed to hit him and one of the officers got her out of the house. O’Hara then went into her kitchen and took a knife and barged through furniture blocking the front door. He chased Ms Shennan and one of the officers, but they couldn’t run fast, due to injuries. He caught up with Ms Shennan who was on the ground and stabbed her five times in the face, forearm and chest.
Neighbours witnessed her kneeling in the street as O’Hara “methodically” rained down blows. A witness, Scott Talbot, described the stabbing as “controlled”. He said “Each stab seemed more slow, in and out in a controlled action. After he pulled the knife out it then went in again”. O’Hara was eventually overpowered with CS spray.
Ms Shennan was pronounced dead at the scene. Paramedics had to work quickly to remove her body because Ms Shennan’s daughter was due home from school.
Graham Reeds QC prosecuting said Ms O’Hara was popular and friendly. He added: “But it is accurate to say that friends and neighbours noticed that after O’Hara’s visits to her home became more frequent she started to become more reluctant to leave the house.”
The court heard that the first incident of violence in the relationship came at the start of November. Her mother Betty and stepfather Johnny went to her house for a bonfire party and found her with a black eye and broken nose. She said she had fallen down the stairs when drunk.
Shortly after Christmas, her friend Linda Slade came to visit and saw injuries. The defendant was also present and appeared tense. She said she had fallen down the stairs.
Mr Reeds added: “She later told her friend that he had fractured her jaw and he had threatened her with a knife on two separate occasions. The friend advised her to disengage from him slowly.”
In March her mother and stepfather heard of the incident and went to her house to see for themselves. Her stepfather rang the police and they arrived at the house.
In a statement Ms Shennan’s family said: “Our family has been torn apart and tormented by this tragedy and our lives will never be the same again. Cherylee will always be loved and we will hold cherished memories forever in our hearts. She will never be forgotten by her family, friends and all that knew her.’ They described her as “precious and much-loved” saying “She will be sorely missed but will always be in our thoughts and in our hearts”. They also praised Lancashire Police “particularly the officers who tried desperately to save Cherylee’s life”.
In sentencing O’Hara, Recorder of Preston, Judge Anthony Russell QC, said he was “very dangerous to women” adding: “This was indeed a most brutal and savage attack. You are a very dangerous man, particularly to women with whom you form a relationship.” He praised the two officers for their “commendable courage”.
Detective Superintendent Eddie Thistlethwaite, of Lancashire Constabulary’s Force Major Investigation Team, led the inquiry. He said: “This was a truly horrendous incident which cost a young woman her life. O’Hara is a predatory and violent individual who manipulated his victims including Cherylee, praying on their craving for love and attention. He has shown no or little remorse throughout this process and his actions fully justify the sentence which has been imposed. I would like to thank the Crown Prosecution Service and Counsel for all their hard work which has resulted in today’s guilty pleas. O’Hara’s admission has at least spared the families the ordeal of having to re-live these tragic events through a trial. I would also like to praise the bravery of all police officers, PCSOs, and paramedics who attended what was a horrific scene. Special thanks must go to Detective Sergeant Damien McAlister and Detective Constable Karen Kenworthy who fought with O’Hara in the vain attempt to save the life of Cherylee. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the family and friends of Cherylee. They have shown enormous dignity and bravery throughout this ordeal.”
The court heard that O’Hara had a ‘personality disorder’ which fuelled violent rages. He had convictions for violence dating back to 1989.
DC Kenworthy said she had never been involved in “such a frightening or horrific incident in 22 years service”. She had bruising to several places on her body. DSMcAllister had a two inch laceration to his forehead and puncture wounds to his temple and bridge of his nose which required 20 stitches.
O’Hara claimed his motive for murder was because he thought the police were about to recall him to prison. He also appeared to blame the police for her death, saying: “She was running down the street scared s**tless. Why didn’t the police help her?”
Note: This report was drawn from reports in the BBC and Daily Mail.