Lives Remembered

Co Down man was gifted judge on three continents

Rory O'Connor with his daughter Siobhán

Rory O'Connor was as a distinguished judge in three continents before retiring quietly back to his native Co Down.

In Kenya he earned a reputation for independence and fairness, once convicting a white officer of killing a Mau Mau prisoner and even visiting a detention camp to eat its food and prove that it was not poisoned.

In Hong Kong he rose to its Supreme Court and was on the bench for one of the most infamous murder cases in the colony's history.

He also sat in the appeal court of Brunei at the request of its Sultan and heard cases in London and Gibraltar in later years. George Carmen and Michael Mansfield were among illustrious names to appear before him.

His final years were spent in Bangor where continued to read avidly and enjoy travelling, remaining as sharp as ever right up until his death aged 89 this week.

Rory O'Connor was born in Holywood in 1925, the son of a fruit and vegetable wholesaler whose family owned Struell Wells near Downpatrick. He holidayed at the former pilgrimage site as a child before his father gifted it to the National Trust.

He was educated by the Christian Brothers at Oxford Street, Belfast before boarding at Blackrock College in Dublin, where he played rugby and sailed through exams thanks to an eidetic memory.

At UCD he studied law, accountancy and Spanish as part of a commerce degree - teaching himself the accountancy element when it clashed with Spanish - as well as winning prizes for fencing.

He was called to the Bar in 1949 and practised in Dublin and Clones, Co Monaghan, mainly in criminal law, but after seeing a Foreign and Commonwealth Office advertisement for a resident magistrate in Kenya he decided to embark on an entirely new challenge.

Mr O'Connor would say the six years spent there were the happiest of his life, and it was in Africa that he met his future wife Elizabeth.

As Kenya prepared for independence, the couple moved to Hong Kong as he took up another magistrate's post.

In 1970 he was appointed a district judge and seven years later was elevated to the Supreme Court, where he could make his own decisions and was regarded as among the brightest minds on the bench.

His most famous case was the Braemar Hill murders, which saw five young gangsters found guilty of the horrific killings of two British teenagers in 1985.

Police had interviewed more than 10,000 people and offered a $500,000 reward as part of efforts to solve the gruesome crime which shocked the city.

Mr O'Connor moved back to Co Down in 1991, but continued to hear cases as an appeal judge in Britain and Gibraltar, including an extradition hearing for Roderick Newall for the brutal murder of his parents at their Jersey home.

He received a CBE in the 1991 New Year's honours list.

A quiet man in private, he remained active into his eighties, and enjoyed sport and comedy on television as well as good food.

Carers also marvelled at how he would keep up to date with the latest technologies such as tablets and smart TVs.

Rory O'Connor died on August 10 and was buried yesterday following funeral Mass at St Comgall's Church in Bangor.

Predeceased by his wife Elizabeth, he is survived by his children Fiona, Brendan and Siobhán.

Lives Remembered