Sunday 4 December 2016

'I can't remember what dad said. I'd just had the worst Christmas ever'

Ciaran byrne

Published 22/01/2010 | 05:00

SHE slipped into the room wearing a green hoodie top and jeans and took a seat in front of a flickering computer screen and a big webcam.

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Millions of 17-year-olds do it every day, using the wonder of free Skype calls to connect with their pals or to log on to Bebo for a catch-up. But you knew this was totally different. Life for this schoolgirl changed irrevocably when her father was charged with murdering her mother.

So instead of frittering away some idle time on a home PC, Celine Cawley's daughter was in a sparse Child Witness Room waiting as an official adjusted the sound.

Then, at 11.18am, he told those waiting in Court 19: "We're ready to go."

'Polycom' TV allows children to give evidence on a live TV link, ensuring a child sees only the judge, the prosecuting and defence counsel -- it's far less intimidating that way.

Eamonn Lillis stared up at a screen, his eyes fixed on his daughter's image. Her face stared back and everyone remembered a child was central to this family tragedy.

Ms Cawley's elderly father James sat with members of his family at the back of the crowded court and strained to see the TVs.

Judge Barry White and legal counsel before him removed their gowns and wigs to offer some semblance of normality to the nervous schoolgirl.

"My name is Mary Ellen Ring," said the prosecution barrister for the DPP.

She asked if she could use the girl's first name. "I don't mind," replied the teenager, who gave out a small laugh.

Ms Ring wanted to know if the schoolgirl had met her father some weeks after the death of her mother.

Intruder

"I did," she replied. "He told me what had happened between him and mum."

Did the 17-year-old recall what was said?

"I can't remember what he said word for word. I had just had the worst Christmas ever."

She was told there had been an intruder at their Howth family home in Co Dublin.

Now her father told her of a fight and scuffle between him and her mother. She had slipped and fallen. He had panicked and invented the story about the intruder.

"He said that he felt sorry for what he did and could I forgive him. . . I said yes but couldn't really forgive him for the lie (about the intruder)," said the minor.

At times she shifted in her seat as she struggled to recall the blur of the investigation, the questioning by gardai and, above all, the details of what exactly she said a year ago.

Brendan Grehan, defence counsel, sensed the discomfort and offered some solace.

"I am under the strictest instructions to keep you for as short a time as possible," he began.

A smile spread across the TV screens as his charge relaxed a little and Mr Grehan began cross-examination.

Referring to the explanation given by Mr Lillis to his daughter for what happened, Mr Grehan asked her: "Did he tell you that he panicked?

"Yeah, pretty much," replied the young woman. "I was brought up not to lie so I didn't really appreciate what he did in that respect, but I understand why he panicked."

It was over in 15 minutes. "We are finished with you now," said Judge White.

She hesitated briefly before getting up and leaving through a side door.

The screens in Court 19 went dark and then there was silence.

Irish Independent

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