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Friday 26 May 2017

Celine Cawley's day started with a cup of tea made by her husband, but she never got to her 2pm pension appointment

Gardai suggested to Eamonn Lillis that his wife was a formidable woman while he was a lap dog, says Abigail Rieley

Eamonn Lillis leaving the Central Criminal
Court last Friday where he
is on trial for the murder of
his wife Celine Cawley
Eamonn Lillis leaving the Central Criminal Court last Friday where he is on trial for the murder of his wife Celine Cawley

Monday, December 15 2008 started like any other day for the inhabitants of Rowan Hill on the affluent Windgate Road in Howth. Eamonn Lillis got up at around 6.30am and did his usual sit-ups.

Business was quiet at Toytown Films, the very successful production company he ran with his wife, so there was no pressure to be in work, although they had a 2pm appointment with their pension adviser.

The house was decorated for Christmas; garlands of greenery decorated the tops of cupboards, tinsel hung on every picture. The Christmas tree was in the living room.

At 6.55am, Lillis made himself a cup of tea and brought cups to his daughter and wife. At around 8.30am, he dropped his daughter to school and stopped to chat to an old college friend about the preparations for Christmas. He told her he had put up the Christmas lights the night before, but they had blown.

He then headed back home, stopping to pick up a copy of the Irish Times in the Summit newsagents on the way. At 9.30am a neighbour heard a woman scream.

At 10.02am Lillis called 999. In a recording of the call, his voice sounds high-pitched and frantic. He told the dispatch officer that he and his wife had been attacked and his wife had no pulse.

Gardai and ambulances rushed to the scene. Lillis's wife, 46-year-old former Bond girl and model Celine Cawley, was found lying on the frosty decking in a pool of blood. A blood-stained brick was on the patio beside her. Lillis was giving her CPR under the directions of the 999 operator.

He had scratches on his face and a pronounced lump on his forehead. The nail of his wedding ring finger had been lifted away. Lillis told the gardai that he had arrived home from taking the family's three pedigree dogs for a walk to find a masked man standing over his stricken wife, wielding a brick. He had raced out to her defence but had also been attacked and the masked man had got away.

Celine Cawley was hurried to Beaumont Hospital, but the doctors could do nothing for her. She was pronounced dead at 10.56am.

Lillis gave the gardai a detailed description of the man he said had attacked him and Celine. He said the burglar was 5'11", the same height as himself, but wiry and strong. He said the man was wearing a dark grey bomber jacket with black sleeves, jeans, gloves and a black balaclava with white trim with a dark rucksack on his back. He was also right-handed. Lillis suggested that he might know who it was, the same person who they had suspected of burgling them some time before.

He told gardai his wife would have confronted an intruder. "Celine is a fighter, a tough nut. She'd have confronted someone. She was no wallflower."

He handed over the clothes he was wearing and he and his daughter went to stay with his wife's brother so that gardai could have access to the family home. Lillis told gardai they should do "whatever it takes. I just want him caught."

On Tuesday, the first day of 52-year-old Eamonn Lillis's trial for the murder of his wife, defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC told the court that Lillis admitted there was no burglar in the house that morning. There had been "no intruder or other party present other than the accused himself on the occasion that Celine Cawley suffered the injuries that resulted in her death".

In the days after Celine died, gardai had begun to doubt Lillis's version of events. A search of the house revealed that the couple had been sleeping in separate rooms. In the upstairs bedroom, they found a note written in neat black lettering on two small sheets of white notepaper.

"She will get that wedding dress.

She will marry Keith next June.

She will send out the invites in January.

You will never be with her properly.

The only way you can be with her is to live here.

Think of the positives in the relationship.

You will never take her to France.

She will never share your bed.

You are running out of time!!!"

In the wardrobe in the same bedroom, gardai found a Gap polo shirt stained with blood and a pair of black boots with distinctive white trim and soles. The boots were also spattered with blood. A Breitling watch on the bedside table had smears on the face and the underside of the strap had traces of blood and paper tissue.

In an attic space upstairs, under a pile of discarded children's toys and books a further grim discovery was made. In a Rip Curl suitcase, beneath several camera lenses, a camera and a camcorder, was a black bin bag. In the bin bag were a heavily bloodstained pair of jeans, a V-necked black jumper, boxer shorts and white socks. There were also a pair of men's gloves and a pair of Marigolds as well as a collection of heavily bloodstained pieces of kitchen paper towels. The blood was a match for Celine's.

Gardai interviewed a woman called Jean Treacy, a 31-year-old masseuse at the Howth Haven Beauty Clinic. She told them she had been having an affair with Lillis for the previous 10 weeks although she herself was engaged. She was due to be married the following June.

The relationship had started during one of Lillis's weekly back massages. During the treatment, he had asked her what she was thinking.

She had replied by taking his hand and placing it on her pulse. "That's what I am thinking," she said.

The following week they kissed in one of the treatment rooms. The next Monday, she went to Rowan Hill. Lillis's wife and daughter were away in England. She told gardai that he gave her a phone and texted her daily. They started to meet every Monday, her day off from the salon. They were due to meet the day Celine died. Lillis was arrested on Sunday, December 20. When gardai woke him at his brother-in-law's house at 6.55am that morning, he asked them: "What's the basis for this?"

He initially denied having an affair with Treacy. He said that, both professionally and personally, his relationship with his wife had been "very, very close".

Celine was a "tower of strength" to him he told gardai. They had got married in 1991 and the following year Celine had started Toytown Films. He had joined her in the company as a producer and company director about two years later.

He denied that his was a sexless marriage. He said that he and Celine had been sleeping in separate rooms since developing the habit when their daughter was a baby. It suited both of them -- Celine snored heavily, he said, and kicked around a lot in bed. It allowed them both to have a good night's sleep and be ready for work. Asked if he loved his wife he replied, "God yes!"

When asked if he was unhappy in his marriage, he replied "no comment".

Eventually, he admitted that he was having an affair with Jean Treacy. "I did have an affair but it was absolutely nothing to do with this." He agreed she had come to Rowan Hill three times and had come with him to buy a coat in Brown Thomas. They had gone to the Pavilions Shopping Centre in Swords and Newbridge House in Dublin.

He said the relationship was "some form of mid-life crisis". He knew she was engaged to be married but wasn't jealous. "I don't do jealous." He said he never intended to leave Celine. "I would hate to break up a family." He agreed that he had been due to meet Treacy on the 15th, but denied his wife had found out about the affair.

He told gardai there had been no argument on the morning of his wife's death. "We've had rows before but nothing like that. I just wouldn't be capable; not to my wife, not to her, not to anyone."

Gardai put to him that nobody they had interviewed had a bad word to say about him; and his wife had been described as a "strong, formidable woman". When asked if she was a dominant person "slightly on the bullying side", Lillis said "No".

It was put to him that he was a second-class citizen, a lap dog who earned €100,000 a year to his wife's €500,000 and that Celine regularly shouted at him to "come here, do that".

He denied that he had discussed divorcing his wife with Treacy.

Gardai put to him that he wouldn't be the first man who had given his mistress the idea that a divorce from his wife was a possibility.

Throughout the interviews, despite the mounting evidence, he stuck with the story of the intruder. He told gardai he had blacked out after the masked man attacked him with the brick, but had heard one of the dogs barking inside the house. He suggested that a second man was in the house cleaning up, either before or after he had arrived home.

He told gardai he had changed clothes to bring the dogs for a walk.

He left the clothes he had been wearing in the kitchen and could not explain how they had come to be bloodstained in the Rip Curl suitcase in the attic. He suggested that the second man had used the clothes to clean up and had also been filling the suitcase with stolen items.

"Jesus, they were loading up," he said.

Asked why the top he had given the gardai had blood stains on the inside, which could only have come from his body, he replied: "I have nothing to say to that."

Lillis told gardai that the scratches on his face had been made by his wife when he raised her hand to his face while he was checking her pulse. "There used to be a gesture we had where we would touch each other on the face," he said, adding it was a gesture of love.

He told gardai Celine had very sharp nails and the scratches must have been made accidentally. He said that, while he was holding her, hand she opened her eyes and he felt her hand clench.

He denied that the note found in the bedroom had been about his affair with Treacy. He said that it was notes for a short story he was working on -- a story of a doomed love affair -- and admitted that it was based on experience.

Eamonn Lillis has watched his trial unfold impassively in the sleek wood of the new courtroom in the Criminal Courts of Justice complex on Dublin's Parkgate Street.

He is the first person to stand trial for murder in the new building. Ignoring the crowds that pack into the courtroom every day, Lillis either looks intently at the witnesses in the stand or bows his head to read the written evidence in front of him. On occasion, he lifts his hand to rub his eyes and the bridge of his nose.

The trial continues next week before Mr Justice Barry White and the jury of six men and six women.

Sunday Independent

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