Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, she trained as a newspaper journalist in Northern Ireland, then joined BBC Television and Radio in Belfast, before moving to Ulster Television and then ITN in London.
In 1996 she returned to London joining the BBC's international news channel BBC World. She was the duty presenter in the early hours of 31 August 1997 when news broke of the fatal car crash of Diana, Princess of Wales. She can be seen in this role in the 2006 feature film The Queen.
In November 1997 she joined BBC News (then BBC News 24) as one of the launch presenters. Since then she has presented in various timeslots on the channel, including a period in the afternoon slot alongside Matthew Amroliwala and Chris Eakin, before being assigned to Sunday afternoons in April 2006. She has since also taken on the Saturday and Monday morning slots and the Friday afternoon slot, as well as regularly covering other shifts on the channel.
Mawhinney is married with two daughters. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2013. She underwent surgery, drug therapy and radiotherapy and was back in the studio in March 2014.
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