When a night out turns to tragedy

Date published: 22 June 2010

A NIGHT in the local pub turned into tragedy for Heywood mum-of-three Emma O’Kane in December, 2008. The 27-year-old died after being cut from a shard of glass from a bottle thrown into the crowded pub by Neil McNulty (19), who had been refused entry by door staff. Now, 18 months after her death, police in Oldham, along with Emma’s partner Michael Shepherd, have launched a new campaign to stop this from ever happening again. Reporter BEATRIZ AYALA found out what is being done.

To this day, Michael Shepherd blocks out the incidents of his 38th birthday on Boxing Day, 2008.

It was then that he lost his soulmate and the mother of his children Emma O’Kane while they were celebrating in their local pub.

A glass bottle was thrown into the pub and smashed against a door frame, causing a shard of glass to cut her neck.

Emma died in his arms. The mother-of-three was only 27.

Michael (39), from Heywood, said: “How do you describe someone who is perfect?

“Emma was an angel, she was such a helpful person and would go out of her way to do so. She loved being a mum and she was well-known and loved around Heywood.

“We were due to get married this September and were talking about it in the pub on the night she died.”

Michael, a roofer by trade, had to put his work on hold while he became full-time stepfather to Emma’s oldest son Reece (8) and father to their children Jack (4) and Ellie (3).

He said: “We will have memories of Emma and know what she was like but it’s the children who have really lost out.

“Reece talks about her all the time, but it’s heart breaking that Jack and Ellie are never going to know what type of person she was.

“Jack is starting reception class in September and Ellie going to nursery.

“My sister Mandy, who was best friends with Emma, is helping me pick out their uniforms and checking out the schools, but it should be Emma doing that.”

Mandy Shepherd (29), from Middleton, said: “I don’t go out very often because of what has happened.

“It terrifies me to hear the noise of smashing glass. It just takes me back to that night.

“People say the pain eventually fades but it doesn’t, you just learn to live with it.”

Neil McNulty (19) was jailed in 2009 for four years after admitting manslaughter, but the family have been told he will be freed next April.

In a bid to prevent anyone else from losing a loved one in the same way, Michael has helped create a series of radio adverts with the help of Sergeant John Murdoch, violent crime co-ordinator for the Oldham Division.

The three different adverts, which feature Michael talking about his experiences, are currently playing five times a day on Oldham radio station The Revolution.

Timed to run alongside the World Cup, the adverts were officially launched on June 9, on what would have been Emma’s 29th birthday.

Michael said: “I’m hoping the adverts will make people stop and pause before doing anything. No-one is perfect, people are going to lose their tempers, but no-one should lose a life over this.”

Sergeant Murdoch said: “With the highs and lows of the football, people enjoy a drink and the red mist can descend. But they might just remember these adverts and put the glass down.”

Police statistics show that between April, 2009, to March, 2010, incidents of alcohol-related violent crime in Oldham have gone down by 22 per cent compared with the same period the year before.

Across the borough, violent crime has dropped by 7 per cent and all crime is down by 16 per cent.

In a bid to prevent any more needless deaths, Sgt Murdoch is using £10,000 of Home Office funding to purchase polycarbonate plastic glasses to use around Oldham.

Unlike other plastic glasses, these are coated in a special resin to make them shatterproof and to ensure they hold their shape.

Sgt Murdoch said: “A lot of town centre pubs are looking into getting these voluntarily, but once they have been purchased we will be focusing on certain areas.

“These include pubs around Failsworth Pole who will get the first delivery of glasses and premises involved in the Pubwatch scheme.

“We’ve got to do what we can to minimise the risks so people can come home safely at the end of a night out.”