Friday 23 August 2019

'A part of us died too.. a mother's worst nightmare' - Murdered man's mum says she will never forgive those responsible for his death

Victim Dale Creighton
Victim Dale Creighton
The footbridge on St Dominic’s Road, where Dale Creighton was assaulted in Tallaght, Dublin. Photo: Collins

Alison O’Riordan

The mother of a 20-year-old who died following an attack on a Tallaght footbridge has said she will never forgive those responsible for her son's death.

Six men and one woman were originally charged with murder and went on trial at the Central Criminal Court in October, after pleading not guilty. However, those charges were dropped on the 15th day of the trial, after they pleaded guilty to lesser charges and had their new pleas accepted.

Dale Creighton was assaulted at the footbridge over the Tallaght bypass between Saint Dominic’s Road and Greenhills Road four hours after he had rung in the new year. The court heard that there had been an allegation that the Tallaght man had stolen the woman’s mobile phone.

He died in hospital the following day. The cause of his death was blunt force injury to his head and face.

The seven accused, who are from Tallaght, had all rung in the new year in a local night club.

They are 23-year-old Aisling Burke and her 28-year-old David Burke, both with a current address at Beechpark, Collinstown, Co Westmeath; Graham Palmer (26) with a current address at Park Avenue, Portarlington, Co Laois; Ross Callery (23) currently of Gortlum Cottages, Brittas, Co Dublin; James Reid (26) currently of Glen Aoibhinn, Gorey, Co Wexford; Jason Beresford (23) with an address at Coill Diarmuida, Ard a’ Laoi, Castledermot, Co Kildare; and Gerard Stevens (27) currently of Grosvenor Square, Rathmines in Dublin.

Each accused also initially pleaded not guilty to violent disorder at the footbridge. However Jason Beresford later changed his plea and pleaded guilty to the violent disorder charge.

Aisling Burke, a mother of one, has now pleaded guilty to violent disorder at the bridge that New Year’s Morning.

Graham Palmer, Ross Callery, Gerard Stevens, Jason Beresford and David Burke have now pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

James Reid has pleaded guilty to possession of a knife, which had a blade or was sharply pointed.

In the Central Criminal Court, counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sean Gillane SC, called Ms Helena Darcy, a friend of Dale Creighton’s mother Rhoda Smith, to read a victim impact statement on her behalf.

The court heard that Dale was the first born of Ms Smith’s two children and her only son.

“He grew up to be a lovely polite handsome young man with a stunning smile, he was quiet and shy. Dale did well in school and had just completed a springboard programme in Belfast, during this course you could see his confidence growing and he began to put a life plan in place,” she said.

Ms Smith said that “these people” have not “only taken away” her son from her, his sister, grandparents and friends, but by “cutting his life short so cruelly” they have taken away Dales chance of getting “married, becoming a father and growing old.”

“Leaving my mind constantly filled with ‘what if’s’and uncontrollable crying. So you see not only did Dale die on January 1, 2014, a part of us all died too. We in time will come to some sort of understanding of Dale dying but never the circumstances in which he died. A mother’s worst nightmare,” she said.

Dale was “looking forward to starting a carpentry course in January and was getting excited about his upcoming 21st as he was planning to celebrate on holiday with his lifelong friends.”

Ms Smith said that Dale always celebrated New Year’s Eve with his family so it “came as a surprise when he decided to go out.”

Ms Smith said that her son texted her that night and she “rang him at the bells” and he told her his plans to meet up with his cousin in Crumlin and he would see her the next day.

The words “I love you” were the last words Ms Smith heard from her son.

The court heard that in the early hours of the morning of January 1, 2014 Ms Smith received a call to go to Tallaght hospital as Dale had been assaulted.

Shortly after Ms Smith arrived at the hospital she contacted her parents to also come.

“A decision was made to transfer him to Beaumont Hospital. I was allowed to see Dale for a few minutes, the sight of my son lying there will never be erased from my memory," she said.

"His head and face had swollen to twice its size, none of his teeth were visible and I thought they had been knocked out. All we could do in Beaumont Hospital was watch and pray as we weren’t allow to touch Dale or even kiss away his pain."

The court heard that “in the midst of all this” Dale's family began to realise that he “was not going to pull through and no amount of written words can express the anguish we were going through at the time.”

“The torture and the fear that my son was put through that night will haunt me for the rest of my life. It is my first thought in the morning when I wake and my last at night when I finally fall asleep. I have nightmares about Dale on the bridge that night,” she said.

Ms Smith always told her son to run “if trouble ever breaks out."

“I didn’t think he listened. After seeing the CCTV footage I now know he did. He couldn’t get away,” she said.

Ms Smith said that her son’s death has taken “the pleasure out of everything” she used to enjoy.

“I now live in fear and with a constant twisted paranoia. I have become over protective of my daughter and I get into a panic if I cannot contact her. I watched her struggle through college these past three years,” she said.

The court heard that Dale shared a “special bond” with Ms Smith’s mother and they “were more like best friends.”

Ms Smith said: “My parents and family do everything to support me. My youngest sister had died four weeks before Dale. My parents had been raising her children the last few years before her death and Dale was always there to help out babysitting, he was more a big brother to them. We had to come home from hospital and explain to them that Dale was going to heaven to be with their mum but we could not find the words.”

After “all the trauma”, Dale's family were getting ready to make preparations for his funeral but they did not have “the dignity” to do that as there were two independent autopsies requested.

“This evasion of these autopsies took away any chance of holding him or kissing him goodbye. My son came home to us so fragile that once again we could not touch him. I will never forgive them for this,” she said.

The second victim impact statement read by Garda Kieran Kilcoyne was written by Dale Creighton's father, Darren Creighton. 

Mr Creighton said that on January 1, 2014 his life "changed forever" when he received a call to say his son had been assaulted in Tallaght and was being transferred to Beaumont Hospital.

"On arrival to the hospital I couldn't believe that my son was left unrecognisable in the bed, that one human being could do that to another, only in Dale's case it wasn't one it was eight people," he said.

The court heard that the doctors then informed Mr Creighton that "there was no hope for Dale" and his life support had to be switched off.

As a family they decided to donate Dale's organs which gave "five people a chance of life."

The court heard that arranging Dale's funeral was "one of the hardest things" they ever had to do in their lives and they had to wait until January 18 to cremate him.

"We could not touch or kiss Dale in the coffin," he said.

Mr Creighton said that the last words to his son were "Happy New Year Pal" to which he replied: "You too Da."

"I lost my best pal that night," said Mr Creighton.

The court heard that Dale had his "whole life ahead of him but he will never experience what it is like to have a career, get married, hold his own child and feel unconditional love as a father."

"Every night for the last three years I go to sleep thinking of Dale and I wake to a nightmare, so much so the stress of his death has taken a toll on my health that I have suffered three heart attacks," he said.

"They say God forgives all man but I can never in my heart forgive those who denied my son a life and that they can go on and live. All we have for Dale is a plaque in Palmerstown where he is interred," he said.

Pleas

Today, counsel on behalf of all of the accused made pleas in mitigation on their behalf and handed in testimonials to the court. The majority expressed remorse for their actions and outlined their personal circumstances.

Mr Brendan Grehan SC, on behalf of Aisling Burke, told the court that his client was before the court to be sentenced on the offence of violent disorder and this plea was offered to the prosecution "well in advance of this trial."

Counsel said Ms Burke had no previous convictions and he wanted to apologise on her behalf to the Creighton family for her role in the events that led to Dale Creighton's death.

A letter of apology was handed into the court which stated that Ms Burke cannot imagine all the "pain, suffering and heartache the Creighton family are going through."

Being a mother to a five-year-old son, Ms Burke said that she "cannot imagine the devastation" Ms Smith was feeling.

"For my part if I could turn back time I would in a heartbeat," she said.

Mr Grehan asked that the court to treat his client as lenient as it could.

Mr Patrick Marrinan SC, on behalf of Graham Palmer, told the court that his client accepts to receive a serious prison sentence for his actions on the night.

In mitigation he said that his client cooperated with gardai when he was arrested and admitted in subsequent interviews that he had been involved with punching and slapping the deceased.

"He said to gardai how he hoped the young person would be OK and when informed of Dale Creighton's death he expressed the appropriate remorse," said Mr Marrinan.

A letter of remorse was also handed in to the court where Mr Palmer said he was "deeply sorry for the pain and suffering caused to the family of Dale Creighton."

"Unfortunately I can't take back what happened but I wish I could," read Mr Marrinan.

Mr Giollaiosa O Lideadha SC submitted on behalf of his client David Burke that at no stage did he assault the deceased causing him serious harm but he took steps to stop others causing him serious harm.

Prosecution counsel Mr Sean Gillane SC told the court that Mr O Lideadha was entitled to put forward that position to the court but it was not accepted by the prosecution.

The barrister asked the court to take into account his client's age and read a letter to the court where he expressed his client's sincere remorse for his actions on January 1, 2014 and how he "continuously relives the whole event again and again."

Mr Michael O'Higgins SC, on behalf of Ross Callery, told the court that his client had recently become a father and therefore has "some understanding of what it is like to lose your own child."

Counsel said that his client accepts the consequences of his actions which he "deeply regrets."

"Mr Callery says that he understands the statement will seem hollow for the immeasurable loss but he openly says he is sorry for the suffering he has cased. Not a day goes by where his actions aren't contemplated by him," said the barrister.

Mr Ciaran O'Loughlin SC, for James Reid, said he had one year to go in a carpentry apprenticeship and had pleaded guilty to possession of a knife but he did not use the knife nor did he intend to use it.

Mr Michael Bowman SC, on behalf of Gerard Stephens, said his client "stands fully responsible" for having engaged in an assault on a young person where he had "no business doing that."

The court heard that Gerard Stephens was a man with a history of anxiety and offered his heart felt condolences to the Creighton family.

"He did not have the happiest of childhoods and his family unit disintegrated when he was a younger man," said Mr Bowman.

A handwritten letter expressing his clients deepest apologies for his actions was handed into the court.

Mr Micheal P O'Higgins SC, on behalf of Jason Beresford, said that his client was the youngest of the accused and he submitted that a "considerable amount of violence was administered to Dale Creighton before" he arrived at the scene.

"He took more alcohol than usual on this night and this is no justification for what occurred," he said. Mr O'Higgins asked the court to be as lenient as possible with his client.

Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy will pronounce sentence on January 16, 2017.

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