Thursday 8 December 2016

Arm in arm, Cawleys dignified to the last as court ordeal ends

Michael McHale and Nicola Anderson

Published 06/02/2010 | 05:00

DYNAMIC, kind, successful, fun-loving and caring -- these were the words used to describe Celine Cawley just moments after her husband was handed a seven-year prison sentence for killing her.

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In an emotional statement outside the court, Celine's brother Chris tearfully paid tribute to the woman whom her killer had portrayed as a domineering bully.

"Celine was a dynamic, kind, successful, fun-loving, caring person," he said outside the Central Criminal Court yesterday.

"She had a beautiful energy that lit up so many lives -- the lives of family, friends, neighbours and colleagues."

His voice broke as he finished: "Celine, we love you."

Reaching to hide his distraught face, the rest of his family moved to comfort him.

But there was no mention of his sister's killer, the man who had caused such heartache.

While Chris thanked the wide range of friends and neighbours "for being so kind and supportive with their emotional and practical help" throughout the family's harrowing period, Eamonn Lillis's support came from just two people -- his sisters Carmel and Elaine.

Two kindly-faced ladies in their late-40s to 50s with blonde, bobbed hair, they put their own lives in England on hold to come to Dublin to attend the trial.

They were willing to put themselves through the ordeal of the media frenzy at the courts each day.

And, unlike most family tragedies of this nature, there did not appear to be a notable gulf between the two families at the centre of this tragedy.

Though the families did not sit together in court, Celine's sister Susanna was spotted on several occasions talking to the Lillis women throughout the course of the trial.

Now Susanna was back on her own side, standing shoulder to shoulder with Chris and her father James, the man who Mr Justice Barry White had earlier called "a true gentleman", while praising the dignity and respect he and his family showed throughout the trial.

As he left the court for what he hopes will be the last time, James continued to hold that same silent, dignified reserve that had kept his family together during the ordeal.

Susanna chose the same option, no doubt feeling that, during the previous day's victim impact statement, she had said her piece. There she told the court: "My good-humoured, roguish, fun, compassionate and caring sister is entirely deleted from my mind.

"In her place, a battered, head-shaven body with 18 facial injuries, slipping in blood as she fights for her life on the patio of the house of her dreams."

But whatever spirit that was left to deliver this provocative message was gone. Instead, her weary eyes and solemn expression showed a woman left tired and shaken by the three weeks of courtroom appearances she had endured.

She declined yesterday to comment on the length of the sentence handed down by the court.

During the course of the trial, it was obvious that Carmel and Elaine Lillis found certain sections of the hearing to be extremely difficult.

Hand over mouth, they observed the heavily blood-stained clothes found in the attic of the home on Windgate Road in Howth.

The expressions on their faces were of absolute shock and misery as the blood-soaked jeans, black jumper, t-shirt, socks and boxer shorts were held aloft for examination.

When Lillis took the witness stand, it was the most difficult point of the whole trial for his sisters, who listened intently to his evidence with heads bowed, scarcely moving, the tension showing in their faces.

As he was convicted for manslaughter, the two sisters wept for their brother and for his final, formal transformation from devoted husband of his wife Celine into her convicted killer.

Yesterday, only Carmel was present for the sentencing of her brother.

The older sister Elaine probably had to return to England since both sisters would have expected the sentencing to be concluded the previous day.

Meanwhile, the family statement continued, with no mention of a Lillis in sight.

"As you can imagine, the last 14 months have been very difficult for all the family," Susanna's husband Andrew Coonan said. "But it would be wrong not to also acknowledge the very considerable work of the legal teams. . . and in particular to the gardai for the huge effort on their part."

As the family walked down the steps outside the Criminal Courts of Justice arm in arm, it was clear that they had had enough of the anguish the last few weeks had caused.

For them, the trial was over, but the grief was never-ending.

Irish Independent

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