Unprovoked knife attack in Cork city centre 'changed our family's life'

Unprovoked knife attack in Cork city centre 'changed our family's life'

Sean Butler who was stabbed in the face while on a visit to Cork in 2008.

WHEN Sean and Anthony Butler arrived in Cork in October 2008 for a stag party they didn't know their lives would be changed forever by a random knife attack.

The brothers had flown from Manchester to Cork while their parents Brian and Tracey were also here to visit relatives — Brian's mother was originally from Cork.

They were on their way to their hotel in the early hours of the morning after a night out with their friends, when they decided to stop for fast food at McDonald's on Daunt Square.

Both men were stabbed on the street nearby by one assailant who has never been caught.

Sean was attacked first and Anthony was stabbed when he went to his aid. 

The attacker was standing with a group of people but fled the scene immediately after the attack.

The two brothers, who were in their early 20s at the time, were rushed to the Mercy University Hospital by a taxi driver who came to their aid.

Seán’s facial wound was two centimetres deep and needed eight stitches.

Anthony needed eight stitches to his arm and two to his neck.

Today, both brothers are left with the scars from the incident, with Sean's more visible, under his eye.

Their dad, Brian, said the incident affected not just the men but their entire family.

"They just met the wrong person at the wrong time," said Brian.

For a long time after the incident, the brothers blamed themselves for the attack, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, even though the assaults were totally unprovoked.

Brian recalls receiving a phonecall from them shortly afterwards, telling him they had been stabbed.

Anthony Butler was stabbed in Cork while here on a visit from Manchester.
Anthony Butler was stabbed in Cork while here on a visit from Manchester.

He can still recall the shock and horror of hearing what had happened to them in a city which meant so much to them because of links to their grandmother.

Blood pumped from Sean's face and he had to use the t-shirt he was wearing to try to stop the flow.

When the brothers returned to Manchester, they tried to get back to normal but they needed ongoing treatment for their wounds and were out of work for some time.

There was no follow up support for them after the incident.

A difficult aspect of the wounds was that people unknowingly looked at Sean and Anthony with suspicion because of the scars.

Sean's wound was more visible and Brian recalls some incidents when associates who were not aware that Sean was his son made comments that he must have done something to deserve the slash wound.

"I felt when he was going for jobs, people looked at his face and judged him. 

"He, afterall, has a scar on his face. People do ask how did he get it.

"We are very judgemental as a society."

However, the two brothers have turned their lives around following the attack and are now both employed, and married with children.

However, tough times followed Sean many years later when he and his wife Natasha's baby son died soon after birth, in May 2014.

Little Spencer passed away just over a half an hour after being born. 

An inquest into his death heard of failings in the care of Natasha and her baby.

BBC coverage of the inquest at the time revealed that the coroner highlighted "failings including failure to provide checks, failure to follow guidelines and failure to provide timely medical intervention."

Further shock hit the brothers in recent years when a friend of theirs, Michael Hoolickin, died from stab wounds after an incident in Middleton, in the UK, in October 2016. He was the son of former Oldham Athletic footballer Gary Hoolickin.

The man convicted of his murder had been out on licence at the time of the attack.

Brian said: "Michael was a great friend of both my sons. Both of them had worked with him."

That death has reinforced for the Butler family just how lucky they are that Sean and Anthony survived the stabbings.

"With Anthony, when someone stabs you in the neck, if you move the neck in the wrong way, the story could be very different," said Brian.

Since the 2008 incident, none of the family has visited Cork city since, because it was such a traumatic time for them all. 

They have, however, visited west Cork as well as other parts of Ireland, and are regular visitors to Ireland for GAA games.

"It is a mindset issue, especially for my wife. It has left us with a very sour taste which is disappointing, especially for my mum," said Brian.

Brian acknowledges that knife crime is also a big issue in the UK.

In April, the Office for National Statistics showed an increase in knife crime in England and Wales, to 45,627 offences in the year to December 2019. This was an increase of 7% on the previous year.

The figure was also the highest since such statistics were first collated in the year 2010 to 2011.

The report outlined: "Knife or sharp instrument offences continue to be concentrated in metropolitan areas across England and Wales, with around a third (34%) of all offences recorded by the police in London."

The report also revealed that 40% of all recorded homicides in the UK last year involved a knife or a sharp instrument - similar to 2018.

In recent years, Brian has used his Twitter account to highlight the dangers of knife crime, but attempts to show a photo of Sean's facial injury have failed because of Twitter's rules.

It is deemed too graphic.

Brian says knife crime is too prominent in today's world and can happen anywhere.

For the Butler family, the attack which left Sean and Anthony with visible scars also resulted in huge trauma for the family which they will never forget.

More in this section

Sponsored Content