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Saturday 10 December 2016

The 'real' Celine was lost amid the dehumanising court process

Published 11/04/2015 | 02:30

TWO days after Celine Cawley died, her friends went into the office of her company to remove and duly distribute the Christmas presents she had bought and left, all wrapped up, on the table in the boardroom.

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There were gifts for everyone - even the partners of her employees. She was in the habit of buying little presents even for the household pets of those she loved.

One of the most poignant moments of the trial came when the victim's father, Jim Cawley, wept openly on hearing the evidence of deputy State pathologist, Dr Michael Curtis, that his daughter would probably have survived if she had received prompt medical attention.

Successful in her business, Celine was described by colleagues as "the mother" of commercial production in Ireland, while film producer John McDonnell of Fantastic Films recalled her affectionately as "mum" - a unique person with a heart of gold.

And yet, this persona is not the Celine that emerged in the course of the three-week trial in January 2010 of her husband, Eamonn Lillis.

Read More: Wife killer Eamonn Lillis arrives at Dublin airport to leave Ireland: 'I have served my time'

Instead, we heard only of the hard-nosed businesswoman with an abrasive personality.

Gardaí put to Lillis during interviews that nobody they had interviewed had a bad word to say about him. "You were the second citizen?" a detective had asked.

He put it to Mr Lillis that gardaí had learned that he earned €100,000 while she earned €500,000. "No comment," replied Mr Lillis.

The detective said people had described his wife as strong and dominant, saying that she used to shout at him: "Come here, do that," and that he was a lap dog.

When asked if she was a dominant person "slightly on the bullying side", Lillis had said: "No".

All legal trials actively depersonalise victims in the stringent bid for 'justice blindfolded' and this one was no different, with Judge Barry White warning the jury to "leave all human emotion outside the door of the jury room".

Read More: The weekend Celine told her mentor: 'I've met the man I'm going to marry'  

In deciding the case, they should do it "coldly, analytically and dispassionately, leaving aside any feelings of sympathy you might have or any feelings of revulsion you might have", he directed them.

With nobody in the trial process permitted to speak up for Celine, her true character - whatever it may have been, but which was undoubtedly multi-faceted like us all - became lost and unknowable.

Friends were understandably reluctant to come out and issue statements that might have redressed the balance, for fear of upsetting the family.

And so only the victim impact statement of the Cawley family and another short statement outside the Courts of Criminal Justice gave some indication of the woman that had been lost.

"Our lives are enriched for having known you. We still miss you and will miss you desperately. We shall open our eyes, smile, love and go on... All the stars are coming out tonight/They're lighting up the sky tonight for you," it said.

Afterwards Celine's father Jim; her brother Chris, with his arm around his wife Sorcha; Celine's sister Susanna and her husband Andrew Coonan stood together to give a brief media statement.

It thanked their "wonderful friends and neighbours" for their help, which had been both emotional and practical, and thanked the gardaí once again.

Chris took over then, describing his sister as a dynamic, kind, successful, fun-loving and caring person.

"She had a beautiful energy" and lit up so many lives. Celine, we love you," he said, and arms entwined, the family walked away into the sunshine.

The mother of one was a human dynamo who seemed to have lived several lifetimes crammed into her short 46 years.

She had been a model who had made it to the pages of American 'Vogue'; had a bit part on the set of a Bond movie and had mingled with stars such as John McEnroe, Bruce Springsteen, Jacqueline Bisset, Ryan O'Neal and Brook Shields.

And then she moved to the cut-throat world of advertising, getting her first break in the business on reception at Windmill Lane.

She left to join GPA, a television commercials production company and it was at this point in her career that she met Eamonn Lillis at the annual advertising awards week in Kinsale, Co Cork in September 1990.

He was the son of a captain in the Irish army, who came from Wainsfort Park in Terenure. He trained as a graphic designer and had his own business called Powerhouse, which he ran in conjunction with a partner from Glenageary in south Dublin.

Friends and colleagues recalled him as quiet - a dreamer and a doodler and not particularly memorable as a personality.

In the words of his lover Jean Treacy later, he was "refined, gentle, a bit of a dreamer and someone who wouldn't hurt a fly".

But discovering a shared interest in dogs - specifically German Shepherds - Celine and Eamonn hit it off that night, were engaged by Christmas and married the following July.

They were determined to start a family as soon as possible and their only child, Georgia May, was born in November 1992.

In the meantime, Celine had gone out on her own professionally, setting up Toytown Films in 1990 and became a superb producer of commercials, priding herself on quality work for a host of well-known advertisers in Ireland and abroad, from Bank of Ireland, Kelloggs, ESB, Diageo and McDonald's to Heineken, O2 and Volkswagen.

Success purchased a trophy house in Howth but though Lillis denied to gardaí that their marriage was in crisis, it clearly had been.

They never got to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary.

Celine was dead and Lillis was being led off to Wheatfield Prison, serving a sentence of five years and 11 months for her manslaughter.

And an only child had effectively lost both parents.

Irish Independent

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