Diane, 57, died on August 9 after a brutal attack by her fiancé Rory O’Connor at his home in Trevelyan Terrace. They had been together for around three years but it was a volatile, alcohol-fuelled relationship and the police had been called to the house several times following reports of domestic disturbances there.
O’Connor was sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to her murder. He will have to serve 15 and a half years before he can apply for parole.
Diane’s younger sister Gail Atkinson is well known in Dumfriesshire as she used to run Powfoot Golf Club with her husband Peter. She describes Diane as very organised, hardworking and capable but said she changed a great deal in character when she met Rory.
Gail described how Diane had initially married her childhood sweetheart and enjoyed a loving, committed relationship for many years: “Adam Nichol really was her soulmate and they had two children and three grandchildren together. They were married for around 30 years, but then he died suddenly of a heart attack.”
And Gail says the loss of Adam had a profound impact on Diane: “She just lost her grip on reality. She couldn’t cope without him. She was totally lost. She did have a drink problem before that, but it became far more evident after Adam died.”
She was still grieving his loss, drinking heavily and in a vulnerable state of mind when she met O’Connor a couple of years later. Diane had her own house in Hawick. but the pair stayed mainly at his home. Gail says Diane would never admit that their relationship was volatile, adding: “Diane would have black and blue bruises but when I asked her what had happened, she would say she had fallen when she was drunk. The police were called to the house a few times, but she would always deny anything had happened and say everything was fine.
“I’ll never be able to understand how he was able to get into her head the way he did and change her so completely.”
Gail wears a gold necklace carrying Diane’s name spelled out in Arabic letters which belonged to her sister. It’s a way of keeping her memory close.
And she is determined to honour her sister, who often visited Powfoot, by alerting other families to the often hidden signs of domestic violence.
She said: “It could be happening to someone next door. We did know something was going on with Diane and that man but never in a million years would have believed it could end this way.’
A coffee morning held in Newcastleton in March raised more than £1300 for the Border Women’s Aid centre, which Gail says has been a true lifeline: “They’re really understanding and they really can help. People need to know they can reach out to them in absolute confidence. I’d also really like to thank the many, many people who helped organise the coffee morning. I’m doing this because we don’t want any other family to have to go through the agony that we have suffered.”
- ABOVE: Gail, front row left, and Diane, front row right