Man found guilty of capital murder of Det Gda Colm Horkan was ‘clearly mentally ill’
Áine Bell met her future husband Stephen Silver at a motorbike festival in Co Mayo in 2006.
“He sat down beside me at that bike rally and we started talking and then we talked all night,” she recalls.
“We pretty much haven’t stopped talking since. I love him with all my heart and I always will. Stephen is the love of my life. He calls me his bean chéile, his good lady.
“He is my soulmate, my soul friend. Who is Stephen Silver? He is not that man described in court.”
Four days ago, 46-year-old mechanic Silver was found guilty of the capital murder of Detective Garda Colm Horkan (49). He was tried for murder last year, but the jury could not agree a verdict.
‘I really thought it would be understood that Stephen was sick’
Certain facts of what happened that night are accepted. Silver shot Det Gda Horkan 11 times with his own gun while he was on duty in Castlerea, Co Roscommon, on June 17, 2020. He now faces the mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years in prison.
Silver had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility. He has a long history of psychiatric illness.
His first major episode was at the age of 19 when he became convinced he was Jesus.
“Right now, Stephen is numbed, we all are,” his wife says. “I really thought it would be understood that Stephen was sick. He is in Mountjoy on the medical wing. He gets two six-minute phone calls every day, so we talk every day.
“He did not go out to kill someone that night. He had no intention of killing anyone. That is just not in him.
“I said to him, ‘They’ll never give you 40 years, they’ll see you were sick’. But they didn’t. He regrets it so much and he feels terrible about what happened.
“When he is unwell, Stephen is not Stephen. The man I know, the man I fell in love with and still love, he is loving, fun and kind — a supportive and compassionate person. Everything said about Colm Horkan, in terms of the man he was, can be said about Stephen too.”
Ms Bell acknowledges the pain and loss Det Gda Horkan’s loved ones have suffered.
“I really feel for the Horkan family. It is such a loss for them. All I can say is, if Stephen was of sound mind, it would not have happened.”
The mother of two, who is from Co Down but has lived in Foxford, Co Mayo, for 25 years, has witnessed her husband’s psychotic episodes on various occasions.
‘I really feel for the Horkan family. It is such a loss for them’
“We got married three years after we met. I went to the bike rally with friends because I love live music and dancing more than motorbikes, which is Stephen’s first love, along with music,” she says.
“He told me he was bipolar from the beginning. Six weeks after we first met at that bike rally, I experienced what that meant. I went to see him one time, as it was his birthday, but he wouldn’t look at me or speak to me.
“A week later, his mum called to tell me he was in hospital and was asking to see me, so I went to see him. He couldn’t believe I did. I had fallen in love with him. When he’s unwell, it’s hard to see past it, but it’s not him. And his episodes, they were infrequent.”
The couple married in August 2009. Seven weeks later, Ms Bell’s 19-year-old son, Michael, died in a car crash. It had a huge impact on her.
“He [Silver] supported me so much during that time. But it had an impact on him too. He was Michael’s father figure for three years. They were close. They played guitar together. My other son, Cullin, he was three when Stephen came into our lives. So he really is a father to him.”
Ms Bell says 2010 was a difficult year for Silver, and he was admitted to hospital four times with mental health issues.
“It was a particularly stressful time, and stress was a trigger for him,” she says. “But after that, he was very well for the next eight years. He had no issues again until 2018.
"We had a very ordinary life. We were just happy. He’s a calm person, he was never violent to us, not at all. He was a gorgeous man, loving and caring.”
In 2018, Silver’s mental health deteriorated after he went to Germany for a motorbike rally.
His wife says: “When he got home, he was paranoid. I knew all the signs. Then he told me he thought I was an agent for MI6 — he wouldn’t believe me that I wasn’t.
“I had to go to work the next day. He wrecked the house when I was out, which was so unlike him — he was not violently inclined. We convinced him he had to go to hospital. We sat in A&E for 12 hours to get him admitted.”
After each episode, when Silver “became himself again”, he would be apologetic. “It wasn’t really a case of forgiving him — I knew when he wasn’t well he wasn’t Stephen.”
His final hospital admission was in September 2019 — nine months before he shot and killed Det Gda Horkan — but he left after less than two weeks.
Silver “wasn’t fully OK”, his wife says, and in February 2020 he moved out of the home they shared in Foxford.
“We weren’t estranged. He was still here almost every evening. As far as I was concerned, it was temporary, but he needed some space.”
After he moved out, Silver met an Australian woman at a concert in Dublin. She was unable to work due to Covid and decided to return home, but wanted to spend her final days in Ireland with Silver. They travelled to Dublin on June 15 to stay in a hotel closer to the airport.
Silver, in his court testimony, said he was worried she might be trying to kill him. He had “fleeting thoughts”, he said, that she was an MI6 agent sent “to get rid of me”.
On June 16, he spoke with his sister and only sibling Marian Bruen on the phone. She told the trial she knew immediately he was unwell. After that call, she spoke with their mother and they agreed to have him hospitalised once he got home. But Silver never returned home.
On June 17, having waved off the Australian woman, he decided to head back west.
The court heard he bumped into an old friend in Castlerea. They chatted about a mutual acquaintance, James Coyne, whose home had been targeted in a garda raid. The conversation sparked something in Silver, and he decided there and then to visit Coyne.
He said that when he arrived at the house in Knockroe, he was upset at the “squalor” his friend was living in.
‘There is a possibility that he won’t ever come out’
Later, he and Coyne took turns riding a Kawasaki racing bike that Silver had been repairing around the Knockroe estate. This resulted in multiple calls from residents to gardaí.
An unmarked Hyundai driven by Det Gda Horkan arrived in response to the calls. At that stage, Silver and Coyne had put the motorbike away and were walking towards Castlerea town to get a pizza. The officer pulled up behind them. Moments later, he was dead.
During a tussle, Silver had somehow managed to get hold of the detective’s gun.
“Next thing, I pulled the trigger and nothing happened, so I pulled it again and it fired, a loud pop noise,” he said. “I pulled my hand off it and Colm fired it twice. Colm’s hand started to lose power, falling away from the gun. I took the gun on my own then, and Colm started to fall backwards.”
Silver told the trial he held the gun with both hands and fired the remaining bullets into Det Gda Horkan as he lay on the ground. A pathologist detailed the many injuries he suffered, describing them as “catastrophic”.
Silver said he believed Det Gda Horkan’s unmarked Hyundai with its Dublin registration plate might have followed him from the capital that day.
“I had a lot of confused thoughts about the situation,” he said. “I was just trying to get free of the situation. I felt I was in danger, but it happened so fast it was very, very, very frightening.”
‘Colm was the best of us, a gentleman through and through — he deserved this verdict’
The morning after the killing, Ms Bell was driving to work and listening to the news of the tragedy on the radio.
“I didn’t think of Stephen at all when I was listening to the news,” she says. “Then I got a missed call from Castlerea garda station. A little later, when I saw Stephen’s mother phoning me, I just knew.”
Ms Bell attended both of her husband’s murder trials at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin. Friends of hers and Silver’s helped her out with money to attend court, and she missed a substantial amount of work.
She believes her husband may see out the rest of his days in prison.
“He’s numbed by it all. He makes jokes about it, that if he does get out he will be in his 80s and we won’t have any teeth in our heads between us. But there is also a possibility that he won’t ever come out,” she says.
After Silver’s conviction, Det Gda Horkan’s brother, Brendan, said the verdict gave the family a measure of closure.
“Colm was the best of us, a gentleman through and through — he deserved this verdict today,” he said.
Ms Bell says she feels a huge amount of sympathy for the family of the murdered garda and the tragedy they have suffered, but she also feels compelled to talk about her husband, and she has done so with his blessing.
“In many ways, I wish I had taken the stand to give evidence at his trial to tell everyone who Stephen really is,” she says. “I love him and I always will. He has been dehumanised. Stephen is not the man who has been portrayed.”
Lawyer Phelim O’Neill of Harringtons LLP in Dublin represented Silver during both of his murder trials. It is expected the 46-year-old will appeal his conviction.