THE family of a man shot dead in cold blood while on holiday in Spain two weeks ago were told to bury him abroad and repatriate his remains in five years' time.
Instead, after numerous court hearings in the aftermath of his murder, John O'Neill's remains were finally released by a Spanish judge and brought back for burial last week.
In an interview with the Sunday Tribune, his partner Maxine Sutcliffe said she is now focused on ensuring his killer – an English man now on the run in Europe – is brought to justice.
"Under Spanish law the body needs to stay in the country," she said. "They recommended to us that they bury him locally and get him back in five years. They were saying a lot to us but no one sat down and explained it to us. It was proper hell.
"Once the judge reversed the original ruling everything went quite quickly. Everything up to that was horrible. They had said they couldn't release him because of forensics but no one explained to us why."
Sutcliffe also explained that in the last week she finally had to tell their three-year-old son Jake what had happened to his father. "I had to tell him; it was very difficult and he is still trying to come to terms with it. He understands but it will take a while," she said.
O'Neill (41) was shot dead outside a bar in Benalmadena in the Costa del Sol having earlier tried to calm a situation in which an English man had become involved in an argument with patrons.
Sutcliffe was eager to contradict media reports that the shooting happened in front of her – instead she was at home minding their children.
"I was at home when it happened; we don't go out together because we didn't want to bring the babies out with us," she said.
Spanish police have named Darren O'Flaherty (35), from Liverpool, as their chief suspect and a warrant for his arrest has been issued.
O'Neill, from Coolock in Dublin, had saved hard to go on holiday with his partner and their two children, Jake (3) and Jasmine (nine months). They were amongst a group attending a wedding in the area.
Following an earlier row in the pub, the gunman returned and shot O'Neill outside CoCo's Bar. Despite frantic efforts by paramedics, he died from his injuries.
He was laid to rest last Tuesday after his family had gone to serious effort to have his body released.
"We had to keep going to court all the time," said Sutcliffe.
"This guy (in the funeral service in Spain) said that if the judge said no (to his remains being released) that we should bury him locally.
"I couldn't even let myself think about that. We wanted to hear what the judge was going to say. There was so much going on it was hard to process it all; I can't describe it. I have a really good family around me and John's family; we are all sticking together."
O'Neill's family say they were delighted at the public reaction to the tragedy, saying they had received messages of support from strangers as far away as Australia.
"It's amazing the amount of support over here. It's a credit to John. It's only at times like this when you realise who is close to you," she said.
"Everyone is still shellshocked. It was extremely difficult but it was amazing to see the amount of people who turned up."