Royal Irish troops will mourn murdered colleague but remain united

Corporal Geoffrey McNeill.
Corporal Geoffrey McNeill.

Royal Irish soldiers will mourn the loss of a colleague murdered following an internal altercation but will remain professional and united, a former officer has said.

Doug Beattie, who served as a captain with the famous regiment in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said “justice has been seen to be done” with conviction of Corporal Richard Farrell for killing Corporal Geoffrey McNeill.

Corporal Geoffrey McNeill of the Royal Irish Regiment

Corporal Geoffrey McNeill of the Royal Irish Regiment

On Thursday, 23-year-old Farrell from Dublin was found guilty of murdering his Ballymoney-born colleague at Clive Barracks in Shropshire in March this year.

The judge at Birmingham Crown Court told Farrell he was satisfied there had been “premeditation” in the attack, and that having killed Cpl McNeill, Farrell then “left his body”.

Judge Inman said; “I am satisfied that there is no sensible possibility you went looking for Mr McNeill for purely peaceful reasons and only reacted with such violence as a result of something that passed between you.”

Mr Beattie said the death was a tragedy the unit’s soldiers would have to overcome. “I think they will get on with what they have to do. Everybody’s thoughts will be with his family and his loved ones. Although justice has been seen to be done now, it’s still an absolute tragedy and a family is going to be without a son forever. The sentence that they have far exceeds the sentence passed to Corporal Farrell.”

Commenting on whether the regiment was divided along religious or political affiliations during his own service, the Military Cross winner said; “There was no animosity or friction between either religions or nationalities - none whatsoever.”

In a statement, Cpl McNeill’s family said he “served his country with the highest degree of honour and dedication”. Commenting on their heartache, the family said: “The devastation caused is immeasurable”.

Temp Detective Superintendent Neil Jamieson of West Mercia Police, who led the investigation, said: “There is no doubt that when any such incident occurs it has an impact on various communities, in this case the Irish regiment and the wider Market Drayton community. During the investigation officers have spent a considerable amount of time both working on the base and also around the Market Drayton area. Fortunately such incidents are rare.”

• The statement of Geoffrey McNeill’s family in full:

“Corporal Geoffrey McNeill was born in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland and dedicated his life to his family and to the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment. He served his country with the highest degree of honour and dedication. He was a much loved grandson, son, brother, uncle and friend and touched the lives of all who had the pleasure of meeting him.

“As a family we are relieved that the ordeal of the trial is over and that the verdict of guilty has been reached. Whilst we are pleased that justice through the courts has prevailed, there remains a void in our lives that will never be filled.

“The sentence received by Richard Farrell is not comparable to the sentence carried by those who knew and loved Geoff, for which there is no limit. The actions of Richard Farrell have significantly impacted on Geoff’s family and friends, including his colleagues within the Army. The devastation caused is immeasurable, unforgettable and indefinite.

“Geoff McNeill dedicated his life to the Army and to his duty to protect others. He was a dedicated soldier who excelled in everything that he did. Geoff had the ambition, drive and potential to continue to excel within the 1 Royal Irish Regiment.

“As a family we are deeply saddened that this opportunity was taken away from him, as was his opportunity to have children and settle down in the future. A huge part of Geoff’s life focussed on his nieces and nephews, to them he was stolen and we continue to support them through this challenging time.

“At this time it is difficult to comprehend how we can move forward as a family, however the family remain united, with the memory of Geoff keeping us standing tall. We would like Geoff to be remembered for the legend that he was and not for the dishonourable, cowardly and brutal way in which he was taken from us all.

“The opportunity to grieve has been taken from the family, we would now like to take the time to remember the joy that Geoff gave to us and all those who he touched through his short, yet meaningful life.

“We would like to give thanks to West Mercia Police for their thorough and professional investigation, which has led to the verdict reached. We also give thanks to the CPS, Mr Hotton QC and the prosecution team. Furthermore, we would like to express our gratitude for the support of the British Army. Finally, we would like to thank all of those who have provided continued support throughout our campaign for justice.”