THE heartbroken mother of a Bangor man who died in a vicious knife attack has paid tribute to the talented tattoo artist who she said had ‘the most soft soul’.

Aidan Mann died in January last year after being stabbed in a frenzied attack in the centre of Downpatrick in broad daylight. On Tuesday his attacker, Barry Donnelly, was jailed for nine years after admitting his manslaughter.

Donnelly – who was deemed as a ‘dangerous offender’ by a senior judge – carried out the ‘merciless’ knife attack on the morning of January 3, 2022 whilst he was ‘actively psychotic’.

Aidan Mann’s mother, Sonya, attended court on Tuesday with other family members and afterwards spoke of the devastating impact Aidan’s death has had on his loved ones, and that his family believes it could have been prevented.

“He was the most soft soul, he wouldn’t hurt a living thing,” said Sonya.

“If he saw a wee bee struggling on the street, he would pick it up and look after it. He loved nature, he loved being outside and it gave him such inspiration for his artwork.”

The family have described Aidan as a talented tattoo artist and a self-taught sailor who built a boat from scratch and who enjoyed sailing on Strangford Lough and to the Copeland Islands.

As Sonya recalled: “He loved being as sea, his heart belonged as sea.”

Regarding the fatal incident, the grieving mother said Donnelly ‘stole my life when he killed my son. He chased my son down the street like an animal.

“The fear my son must have felt and the suffering … that will never ever leave me.

“I haven’t watched any of the footage from that day but the thought of what happened never leaves me. It’s in my brain morning, noon and night.

“He (Donnelly) took everything. He took Aidan’s dreams away from him, he took everything.”

Aidan’s family are convinced he was attacked because of his appearance.

His younger brother Lewis, who has followed in Aidan’s footsteps to become a tattoo artist, has a lasting reminder from his big brother in the form of artwork on his left arm which was done by Aidan the month before he was killed.

He also revealed that Aidan was one of the only Tebori tattooists in Ireland – an ancient form of Japanese body art which uses special sticks as opposed to needles.

Lewis said: “Aidan was different, he looked different and we believe he was killed because of the way he looked. We believe this 100%.”

Lewis also spoke of the upset felt when they learned his brother had expressed fear regarding his neighbour.

Lewis said: “If I’d known that I would have gone to his flat and stayed over with him. He’d only just moved to Downpatrick as the rent was cheaper.

“We know there were a few incidents around New Year’s Eve involving the police when Donnelly was banging on Aidan’s floor and banging on his door. Why was nothing done then?”

Aidan’s uncle Graham, who also attended the sentencing, said: “Aidan was let down by the people who are supposed to enforce protection and after what we heard in court, it’s not the first time Donnelly attacked people with weapons. He has a history for violence.”

His auntie Heather said there are so many knife crimes in Northern Ireland and the justice system seems to be failing.

“Maybe if we had stronger sentences for knife crimes, this may act as a deterrent,” she said.

“His life can’t be forgotten, his voice can’t be forgotten and we as a family will make sure Aidan will never be forgotten,” she added.