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Sunday 21 January 2018

On the outside he will have €1.5m fortune - but little else

Rowan Hill
Rowan Hill

WIFE-killer Eamonn Lillis walked out of Wheatfield Prison today a free man - and a millionaire.

Lillis has bided his time in prison over the past five years, but will now get his hands on a fortune estimated at €1.5m.

But while he still has his wealth, life on the outside for this notorious killer will be worlds away from what he had known before.

Estranged from his daughter Georgia - who had to wage a High Court battle to receive some portion of her mother Celine Cawley's estate - she told her father after his conviction she could not forgive his lies, and later said she would "rather stick pins" in her eyes than have him near the former family home.

Despite being responsible for his wife's death, under Irish law Lillis was still entitled to half of their jointly-held assets, from the successful advertising company set up by Celine to the luxury Howth home where he brutally took her life.

From the outset, Lillis claimed a masked intruder was responsible for the vicious attack on Celine at their home, Rowan Hill.

He doggedly stood by his story until the morning his trial began, when he relented and admitted the intruder never existed. In fact, the court heard, it was Lillis who repeatedly struck his wife with a brick on the patio of their home on the morning of December 15, 2008.

Celine (46), a former model and Bond girl, had carved out a successful career in the cut-throat advertising world and was the founder of Toytown Productions. When Lillis became unemployed, she took him on as a director. Although it was clear who was in the driving seat - Celine was taking home a salary of €500,000 compared with her husband's €100,000.

During the trial, it emerged that Lillis had been having an affair with a beauty parlour masseuse.

Lillis was convicted of his wife's manslaughter and sentenced to six years and 11 months in prison. With remission, he walks free today.

He is said to have been a model prisoner. A devotee of the arts, he spent his time behind bars taking part in art classes and even had two watercolours exhibited at Kilmainham Gaol museum - although one was later defaced with the word 'killer'.

He also worked as a stage hand in a prison production of Oscar Wilde's 'The Happy Prince', and in 2012 his essay, 'Being's Road', won a short story competition at Listowel Writers' Week.

But, more importantly, he also used the years to secure his financial future with one eye on his eventual release.

During their 17-year marriage, Lillis and Celine had accumulated a number of properties. These included Rowan Hill, once valued at €1.5m, as well as an apartment in Sutton and a holiday home in Biarritz, France, valued at €800,000.

Lillis received around €600,000 from the liquidation of Toytown, as well as a pension valued at some €450,000. He has also pocketed more than €500,000 from the sale of the Sutton apartment and Rowan Hill.

However, Lillis was not able to get his hands on the Biarritz property thanks to French succession law. A French judge ruled Lillis was "unfit" to inherit the house he had co-owned with his wife because he had killed her.

But Lillis would have been even wealthier had Celine's siblings, Chris and Susanna, not stepped in to protect Georgia's interests.

In marked contrast to the French legal system, in Ireland the Cawleys had to go to the High Court to try and prevent Lillis from securing any interest in the assets that had been jointly owned by the couple in this jurisdiction.

In a sign of his arrogance, Lillis claimed in an affidavit that his daughter had given him permission to return to Rowan Hill on his release from prison - an assertion vehemently denied by Georgia. "I would rather stick pins in my eyes than have him return within six miles of Rowan Hill," she told the court.

However, the court ruled that Rowan Hill was a joint tenancy between Lillis and Celine and was therefore not part of her estate and Lillis was free to take half of the proceeds of any sale with the other half going to Georgia.

The house was sold in 2012 for €850,000 - its market value hammered, not only by the property crash, but also by its notorious history.

In her ruling, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy ordered that Celine's share in the property be held in trust for Georgia.

Chris Cawley, as the executor of his sister's will, said the family did "what it had to do" to secure Georgia's future, adding that Lillis had made the situation "as difficult as possible" for them.

As Lillis begins his life again, he has money - but little else.

Irish Independent

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