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Call for review of law after Lillis secures share of assets he owned with slain wife


a young
Celine Cawley

a young Celine Cawley

Eamonn Lillis

Eamonn Lillis


a young Celine Cawley

THE Minister for Justice is keeping "under review" an apparent gap in the law that allows a spouse who kills their partner to inherit a share of the family home.

The gap has been highlighted by victims' support groups after Eamonn Lillis secured his share of the assets he jointly owned with Celine Cawley, whom he killed outside their home in Howth in 2008.

Lillis, who was jailed for six years for manslaughter, has outraged their daughter, Georgia, and Celine's family for doggedly fighting for control of the family home, investment properties and a French holiday home that were held in their joint names -- a portfolio worth in excess of €1m.

He has already pocketed €350,000 from the sale of the television production business run by his wife.

In a judgement last month, the High Court found that Lillis was entitled to 50 per cent of the properties but highlighted the need for legislation in the area. Ms Justice Mary Laffoy urged both sides to come to an agreement over the disposal of the assets.

Other convicted killers such as Brian Kearney, who murdered his wife, Siobhan Kearney, and Joe O'Reilly, who murdered his wife Rachel, also inherited their share of the family properties. In Kearney's case, he was also entitled to half the proceeds of a hotel in Majorca which was run by his late wife.

Mairead Fernane, chairperson of the Federation for Victim Assistance, said the case of Lillis has "highlighted a very worrying loophole which appears at first glance to require legislation".

"From the point of view of victims it must be very difficult for them to find any justice in seeing someone who killed another person gaining from it in this way," she said.

Celine Cawley's brother and sister, Chris and Susanna Cawley, both executors of her will, challenged Lillis's right to inherit any share of the joint properties he owned with his wife, because he had killed her.

Lillis challenged the action all the way, insisting at first that he was entitled to Celine's share of the properties as well as his own and only belatedly acknowledging that he was legally only entitled to his share.

To boost his claim, Lillis claimed he wanted to provide for his daughter, and that she was in regular phone contact, and kept him up to date on her life. Georgia, who joined the legal action against her father once she turned 18 last year, flatly denied his claims. In an affidavit, she said she had only visited him once to get answers but got none and said she would rather stick pins in her eyes than see her father return to the family home.

The disputed properties include the house on Rowan Hill, worth an estimated €750,000; a property in Sutton valued at around €220,000; a villa near Biarritz, worth about €750,000; two bonds worth €45,000 and two joint bank accounts containing €24,500.

The case was back in the High Court last week when lawyers said progress had been made. It's understood that both sides agreed to comply with Ms Justice Laffoy's judgment and that progress has been made in disposing of the assets. Other issues, such as the contents of the joint bank accounts and costs, have yet to be resolved. The case will be back in court next month.

Separate legal proceedings concerning ownership of the house in France will come to court in March.

In her judgement in December, Ms Justice Laffoy said: "The issues raised in these proceedings demonstrate that, ideally, there should be legislation in place which prescribes the destination of co-owned property in the event of the unlawful killing of one of the co-owners by another co-owner."

A Department of Justice statement said: "The department has noted the High Court judgment in this case. While no representations seeking a change in the existing law have been received, the law in this area is being kept under review."

Sunday Independent