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Greedy Lillis wanted it all, leaving daughter just €600

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Eamonn Lillis and his wife Celine Cawley (inset), whom he killed in 2008 on the patio of their home in Dublin

Eamonn Lillis and his wife Celine Cawley (inset), whom he killed in 2008 on the patio of their home in Dublin

Eamonn Lillis

Eamonn Lillis

Eamonn Lillis

Eamonn Lillis

Susanna and Christopher Cawley, sister and brother of murdered woman Celine Cawley.

Susanna and Christopher Cawley, sister and brother of murdered woman Celine Cawley.

Celine Cawley

Celine Cawley

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Eamonn Lillis and his wife Celine Cawley (inset), whom he killed in 2008 on the patio of their home in Dublin

THE killing of Celine Cawley by her husband Eamonn Lillis has grabbed many headlines, inspired television programmes and continues to hold a grim fascination for followers of true crime stories. But for her family, her death has been almost too horrifying to talk about, certainly in public.

There is one small but not insignificant positive that they hope will emerge from her death - changing the law that allows a man to kill his wife, go to jail and emerge a millionaire a few years later. Their sister's killer will do just that in a few months' time.

That is why Celine's brother, Chris Cawley, and sister, Susanna, have agreed to do their first public interview since the awful tragedy that engulfed their family on a cold December morning in 2008.

They were delighted when last week the Law Reform Commission announced that it is reviewing the law aimed at preventing a husband or wife retaining property they own jointly with their spouse if they have killed them. It will be - they hope -the final chapter in a six- year High Court battle to stop the man who killed their sister from profiting from h is crime, exposing the failure in Irish law in the process.

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The house in Howth where Celine was killed

The house in Howth where Celine was killed

‘Rowan Hill’, formerly the home of Eamonn Lillis, is now ‘Tansy Lodge

‘Rowan Hill’, formerly the home of Eamonn Lillis, is now ‘Tansy Lodge

Family: Celine Cawley's sister Susanna, sister-in-law Sorcha, her brother Chris and her daughter Georgia during a court hearing related to the case.

Family: Celine Cawley's sister Susanna, sister-in-law Sorcha, her brother Chris and her daughter Georgia during a court hearing related to the case.

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The house in Howth where Celine was killed

"People in Ireland would believe that the Succession Act of 1965 holds and you can't profit from your crimes. But that is not the situation, and thus the Law Reform Commission's latest paper." Chris Cawley told the Sunday Independent.

Since he crashed a brick four times down on his wife's head on the patio of their Howth home, Eamonn Lillis has pocketed the €600,000 proceeds of the successful media company that Celine founded, plus his €450,000 pension as an employee of that firm.

He has amassed hundreds of thousands more euro from his 50pc share of the sale of their joint assets, including the couple's family home on Rowan Hill in Howth, north county Dublin; a holiday home in France, and investment property in Sutton.

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Family: Celine Cawley's sister Susanna, sister-in-law Sorcha, her brother Chris and her daughter Georgia during a court hearing related to the case.

Family: Celine Cawley's sister Susanna, sister-in-law Sorcha, her brother Chris and her daughter Georgia during a court hearing related to the case.

Family: Celine Cawley's sister Susanna, sister-in-law Sorcha, her brother Chris and her daughter Georgia during a court hearing related to the case.

Not bad for a man who was described at his criminal trial as a weak man who prospered on the coattails of his far more successful and determined wife.

Celine was vivacious, strong and beautiful, a former Bond girl who founded her own successful advertising company called Toytown. One December morning, he beat her four times over the head with a brick. He hid his bloody clothes and waited half an hour before calling an ambulance. Then he lied and lied, right up until the morning of his trial for murder, insisting an intruder had done it.

He got six years and 11 months for manslaughter. Against this traumatic backdrop, the Cawley family were thrown into grief and chaos and a very public trial.

But the priority was the couple's daughter, Georgia.

Before he was carted away to jail, "he kept telling Georgia that everything was in order and there was nothing to worry about, and that he had everything organised," said Susanna.

"But the only thing that he organised on the day he left for jail was a note, black bins on a Tuesday and brown bins on a Thursday, and something about vaccinating the dog. There was nothing about bank accounts, title deeds, properties, wills, nothing."

Georgia, who went to live with her uncles and aunts, was left with the paltry sum of €600 cash which was to last her five years.

Celine and Lillis had a typical "husband and wife" will, according to Chris. If either died, the other would inherit the estate. If both died, the estate would go to their daughter, Georgia. In that case, her brother Chris and sister, Susanna, were to be the executors.

"At that point we had kept saying to Georgia, we need to get the house in order, so to speak. It was very difficult because obviously communication [with Lillis] was a huge issue," said Susanna. Lillis started putting obstacles in their way from the start. As a convicted killer, Lillis was now debarred from being the executor of the will but it took him months to provide the "renunciation" required to allow Chris and Susanna to be appointed as administrators of Celine's will.

Then he demanded the full 100pc share of everything the couple had owned together. And it seemed that, under the law, he was entitled to it.

Chris and Susanna, as administrators of her estate, quickly discovered what a lot of people don't realise. "Most people in the country assume that a sane person who is guilty of the attempted murder or manslaughter of another shall be precluded from taking any share in the estate of the other," said Chris. "But what the Succession Act says and what the Constitution says about a person's right to property are contradictory."

The situation is further complicated by property law, and in particular joint tenancies. Chris and Susanna went to the High Court to stop Lillis from inheriting everything.

Lillis was manipulative and deceitful. He claimed that he had already agreed with Georgia that he needed the properties to look after her when he got out of prison. He also wrote to her around that time, trying to poison her against Celine's family.

But Georgia, according to Chris and Susanna, was "outraged" at her father's untruthful claims.

"We didn't want to have to join Georgia in the proceedings," said Susanna.

"So in the end he forced that she be joined in the proceedings. We had tried to protect her, because we didn't want to put her out there in the front of the cannon, because Celine would be cross with us."

Georgia joined the proceedings against her father and swore an affidavit saying: "I would rather stick pins in my eyes than have him return within six miles of Rowan Hill."

In her High Court judgment in 2011, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy ruled that Celine Cawley's share in the property should be held in trust for their daughter Georgia.

In her ruling, the judge called for clarity in the law. "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 case they took in France shows up stark deficiencies in the Irish law. A French judge found Lillis was "unfit" to inherit the villa in Biarritz. He ordered him to pay compensation to his daughter, Georgia, and €2,000 each to Chris and Susanna, for the "inconvenience" of putting them through a court case.

There was also a dramatic contrast in the cost of legal fees in the French and Irish cases - around €20,000 in France, which Lillis was ordered to pay and €180,000 in Ireland - which will be paid out of Celine's estate.

"It shows the compassionate system there. Needless to say, we haven't seen our €2,000 each and nor do we expect to. But you know, it's obviously in stark contrast to Ireland," said Chris.

Chris described the entire legal process as "a six-year maelstrom".

But all the family pulled together, remaining strong, particularly their father, James.

"There was always someone within the close-knit family who was at a strong point, my father in particular," said Susanna. "To say that he is stoic and incredible... He managed to keep us all going.

"Obviously, Celine was the complete apple of his eye, and he's a man of great faith, so I think he was thinking, 'well I better get this thing sorted out, or when I get up there, Celine will have something to say to me', you know? So there was always one of us in good form, able to drag the others along."

Chris and Susanna said their family found solace in their communities. Susanna said: "I can remember at one point going into a shop. We had Georgia staying between us. On this particular occasion, the house was a crime scene and we couldn't get her clothes. I went into a shop locally with her to try and buy some clothes and get her sorted. The lady behind the counter spotted me and she started roaring crying.

"You'd come home in the evening and there'd be a beef stroganoff sitting on the cooker. Christmas that year, I didn't buy a present... But there were presents under the tree, the house was decorated. The things people did that you could never repay them for."

The Cawley family made a submission to the Law Reform Commission last March. They heard nothing more until last Monday, when Susanna got a call to tell her that the Law Reform Commission was to review the law.

"The next step is for the Department of Justice to act quickly," said Susanna. Celine's family hopes that changing this law will be her legacy.

Georgia, who is now in her early 20s and at university, is proud. "She's unbelievable. She has come such a long way in the past week. You know, to be able to hold your head high at last, rather than having all of this misery," said Susanna.

"I know that Celine would be very, very pleased about this."

Sunday Independent