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Wednesday 24 January 2018

Betrayal catches up with Lying Eyes

The millionaire who stood by the woman who plotted his death has now walked away, writes Emer Connolly

THE fairytale finale that Lying Eyes had so eagerly anticipated lies in tatters. Sharon Collins turned 47 last Tuesday, but the man who remained devoted to her for so long was not around to lead the celebrations, after he decided to call time on their relationship.

PJ Howard brought much happiness into Sharon Collins's life after they first became an item 12 years ago. Having come from a relatively modest background, she became accustomed to the extravagant lifestyle she was afforded through her association with the rich businessman. Upmarket parties, overseas holidays and expensive cars became the norm for Collins. But it wasn't enough as she became gripped by greed and wanted to get her hands on his millions.

She came up with a plan to have him murdered, along with his two sons Robert and Niall, who stood to inherit his wealth in the event of his death.

She betrayed him so deeply, by plotting his death. The multi-millionaire has now, finally, shattered her dreams of a future together by ending his association with her, having strongly supported her through a barrage of allegations against her.

That Howard would want nothing to do with her shouldn't, from the outside, cause any major surprise, given the details of the 'Lying Eyes' case. But given his previous loyalty to her, it delivers the latest twist in an unpredictable tale that has intrigued the nation from start to finish.

In the face of disturbing allegations against Collins, Howard was always resolute in his defence of her. Gardai had gathered substantial evidence against her and at the end of a trial at the Central Criminal Court almost two years ago, the jury convicted her of soliciting a 'hitman' to murder PJ and his sons Robert and Niall. She was also convicted of conspiracy to murder the three men, but the State conceded, at her appeal hearing two months ago, that those charges could not stand up as her co-accused Essam Eid -- the man she believed was a hitman, but who in fact turned out to be a poker dealer from Egypt -- had not been convicted of conspiracy.

The prosecution had contended that there was a "mountain" of evidence against Collins. It argued that she was the woman behind the email address lyingeyes98 @yahoo.ie, who had made contact with hire_hitman @yahoo.com, in August 2006. A detailed email correspondence between the two followed and a deal was done within a fortnight. While Robert and Niall Howard could be killed in an accident or poisoned, it was suggested that PJ's death would look like a suicide. He would 'jump' from his 14th-floor apartment in Spain, on hearing that his sons had died tragically.

All of this was laid before a jury, who eventually convicted Collins. Yet, PJ simply refused to believe that his lover was guilty and repeatedly showed his affection for and support of her. Taken in by her charms from the moment he walked into her furniture shop in Ennis in 1998, PJ -- now aged 60 -- was blinded by his love for her. He wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions in March 2007 clearly outlining his view that she should not be charged. He claimed that she had been the victim of a set-up to extract money from her -- she sent €15,000 to Las Vegas, which the prosecution argued was a downpayment to 'hitman' -- and did not do what was suggested by the prosecution. A couple of months later, PJ sent Collins to Las Vegas and hired a private investigator in an effort to track down a woman Collins claimed had set her up.

She was, however, charged in June 2007 and went on trial almost 12 months later. Howard's support of her during that trial was one of the more compelling aspects of this remarkable case. In his evidence to the trial, he explained to the jury that Collins was not greedy and said he believed the allegations against her did not make sense. The jury listened intently to his words. He completed his evidence and left the witness box. As he walked by his lover, he stopped briefly, leaned forward and kissed her on her lips.

The courtroom kiss stunned everybody. This man was besotted with the woman who was almost 14 years his junior. PJ, who has always shied away from publicity, made a memorable contribution again after Collins was convicted. He told the sentencing hearing in November 2008 that he would never give up on Collins and pleaded for leniency for her. Collins, he told the court, was a straightforward, honest, loving, caring and decent lady.

"I will not give up on Sharon and would have no hesitation whatsoever in living with her again. . . I am asking the court not to impose a custodial sentence as I do not believe that Sharon poses any threat to my sons. I ask the court to consider how a prison sentence would affect her mother, her two sons and myself," he said to the trial judge, Mr Justice Roderick Murphy.

Collins was jailed for six years and those close to PJ believed he would then turn his back on her. Incredibly, this was not the case, as he made several visits to Dochas, the women's section of Mountjoy Prison, where she has been since July 2008.

His continued devotion to her baffled even those close to the pair, in their home town of Ennis. While several of his friends were prepared to close the door on any association with Collins, PJ continued to make trips to Dublin to visit her. However, word trickled through in recent months that PJ's viewpoint was beginning to change and that he was no longer in a position to remain loyal to her. In advance of her appeal hearing in March, it became apparent that Howard -- who spends most of his time in Spain -- was prepared to cut his ties with her and he does not appear to have changed his mind on this.

A rosy future together that she had envisaged and longed for on her release from prison now appears a case of wishful thinking. Collins -- who is awaiting the outcome of the appeal against her conviction -- remained confident that they could put the past behind them and resume their champagne lifestyle on her release. Motivated by Howard's support of her, she looked forward to the day she would once again fall back into his arms and charm her way back into his heart.

It finally appears that those poisonous words she wrote about him, in her email correspondence with 'hitman' in 2006, have taken effect on PJ Howard. She wrote that she had "no conscience about my husband. He's a real asshole and makes my life hell".

She wrote to the Gerry Ryan radio programme on RTE 2FM in April 2006 alleging that PJ had used transvestites and that he had urged her to become a prostitute. She claimed he would take her to swingers' clubs.

Part of this letter, which was retrieved from a computer which was searched by garda experts, was included in the evidence at her trial.

Those allegations were harmful for PJ, who later refuted them while in the witness box at Collins's sentencing hearing.

Sharon Collins damaged PJ Howard in many ways. She assassinated his character, forced him to forego his cherished privacy and tried to have him killed.

The shrewd businessman is not willing to take any more heartbreak, pain and drama from a woman whose betrayal has known no bounds.

Sunday Independent

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