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One fateful night that began a lifetime of suffering

'YOUR family really need you this week. Love you." The heart-rending message to Sean Nolan is recorded on his Bebo page. But sadly, he will never get the chance to read or respond to its appeal or the countless other outpourings of grief left there by his many friends.

That the 18-year-old from Fairview was brutally slain within 24 hours of his graduation from St Joseph's CBS makes it all the more tragic for his family as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of their son.

There is suffering too for the family of Finn Colclough, the 17-year-old from Waterloo Road who wielded the knife on the fateful night of May 26, 2007. Steeped in privilege from the day he was born, Colclough now awaits sentencing on December 19 for Mr Nolan's manslaughter. The verdict "not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter" was returned by a jury of eight men and four women in the Central Criminal Court last Friday following three hours and 42 minutes of deliberations.

Just how the families of Sean Nolan and Finn Colclough came to meet across a packed courtoom is made all the more difficult to comprehend when one considers the banality of the night in question up to the point where all reason appears to have evaporated.

Sean Nolan had not gone looking for trouble when he walked down Waterloo Road on the night he was killed. Rather, he had been looking to find a girl he knew. Armed only with the knowledge that she lived in the midst of Dublin's embassy belt, Mr Nolan was unprepared, and ultimately defenceless, when he and his companions came face to face with 17-year-old Finn Colclough.

Friends of Sean said in court that they had merely asked for directions to "Sara's house". On the other side, the evidence was that there had been an aggressive air from Sean and his friends.

For while Sean's group were neatly dressed and polite, it was late at night and they were strangers.

Perceptions were skewed further by the drinking that had gone on that night.

Colclough was described in court as being more drunk than his other friends, having consumed eight glasses of wine and smoked cannabis.

Faced with a real or imagined threat, the troubled teenager retreated to his family's home.

Mr Nolan and his friends stopped outside the house to try and open a bottle of wine. They gestured at the kitchen window in the hope of getting a bottle opener after Eric Treacy's keys broke trying to get the bottle open.

One of Colclough's friends said he saw the three outside and told Colclough they were still there. He responded "Oh sh*t."

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His other friend went outside to tell them to move on. Colclough then came running out shouting at them to "get the f*** away from my house". He was holding a knife in each hand.

Mr Nolan took several steps forward to meet him and "squared up" to Colclough. A brief struggle ensued. Mr Nolan was seen to raise his hand and push or strike Colclough. Colclough told gardai that he tried to push Mr Nolan away from him. The knives were still in his hands.

Mr Nolan stepped back holding his chest and said: "I've been stabbed," before falling. Colclough continued to shout: "Get away from my house," before returning to the house.

The single stab wound was enough to kill the Fairview teenager.

The revisiting in Court No 1 of that night's terrible events over the past two weeks proved too much at times for Sean Nolan's mother Charlotte.

Indeed, in one instance when her son's blood-stained jacket was produced in court, she fled the room in a distraught state.

Later in the trial, she opted to stay outside the courtroom altogether as State Pathologist Prof Marie Cassidy detailed results from her post-mortem examination of Sean's body.

As Prof Cassidy held up the blood-stained shirt and vest worn by Sean Nolan on the night of his death, many of those present in the courtoom winced with discomfort.

Mr Nolan's father Michael appeared fixed to his seat as he subjected himself to the painful ordeal of listening to the horrific details of his son's violent death.

The father of the accused, John Colclough, meanwhile, became visibly distressed as the clothes worn by his son's victim were displayed before him.

Faced with the nightmare that had become all too real, Mr Colclough shifted around in his seat, as if straining to escape from the details of the grim deed of his son.

Even if he closed his eyes to the sight of the shirt, there would be no release.

Prof Cassidy's voice pierced the hushed silence of the court as she relayed the details of the knife attack. She pointed out the two holes where the knife had pierced the material of Sean Nolan's shirt and the vest underneath. The fatal stab wound had gone in just four centimetres below Sean's right nipple causing a "slit through the front of the heart". The second non-fatal stab wound was through the left armpit, she said.

While the pathologist found that the force employed to cause Sean's injuries would have been "mild to moderate", the grief visited upon the Nolan and Colclough families showed Finn Colclough had clearly done enough, whether he had intended to or not.

Colclough's state of mind now took centre stage.

Last Tuesday afternoon, the court heard the testimony via video link from Australia from Dr Paul O'Connell, a consultant psychiatrist at the Central Mental Hospital. Dr O'Connell, having met Finn Colclough for an assessment earlier this year and having studied his medical records, told the court of a troubled young man.

Diagnosed as dyslexic at the age of eight, Colclough went on to develop obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) by the age of 10. Colclough's OCD manifested itself at times in excessive cleaning rituals, involving the use of as many as five bottles of Dettol. Stints of two or three hours in the bath were not uncommon for him, the court was told.

By the still-tender age of 13, the clearly troubled Colclough was being prescribed the anti-depressant Prozac and the anti-psychotic drug Risperidone. That difficult regime of potent medication continued up to five months prior to the night he killed Sean Nolan.

Last Wednesday morning, the court heard Colclough's defence as he had relayed it to gardai.

Transcripts of his interviews with investigating detectives were read aloud.

"I thought I just scratched him originally," Colclough told the gardai. "I only realised he was bleeding when I went back outside and I saw blood on the knife.

"I'm sorry for all the trouble I've caused to that man's family. I really didn't mean it. It was an accident," he added.

Listening to the words of her son's killer, Charlotte Nolan appeared both distressed and angry as she glared across the courtroom at Finn Colclough.

In her closing speech last Thursday morning senior counsel for the State Mary Ellen Ring rejected Colclough's defence out of hand.

"What took place took place on the public footpath. We see the blood on the footpath," she said, before adding, "The suggestion is that Sean Nolan started it. Mr Colclough came on the scene with two knives. Sean Nolan had nothing."

Defending Finn Colclough, senior counsel Patrick Gageby conceded the young man's behaviour on the night in question had been "irrational, stupid and juvenile".

"This is the type of thing you fear. That somebody goes out and they don't come back," he added. Mr Gageby complimented the Nolan family for their "dignity and responsibility" throughout the case.

Three hours and 42 minutes was all it took in the end for the jury to return their verdict of "not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter", bringing to an end the beginning of a lifetime of pain and regret for the Nolan and Colclough families.

Finn Colclough was remanded in custody to be sentenced on December 19. Mr Justice Paul Carney told Mr Gageby that he was "not prepared to take a chance", by allowing for bail.

Judge Carney thanked the jury for their service, remarking that such matters were "difficult" for all involved before excusing them from jury duty for the rest of their lives.

Finn Colclough was given a few moments with his family before being put in handcuffs and led outside to the waiting prison van.

Sean Nolan's mother and father, clearly anxious to avoid media attention, were flanked by members of their extended family as they made their way from the court to a car waiting within the Four Courts complex.

Sean's older brother Conor informed journalists that the family would not be making any statement until after Finn Colclough is sentenced.

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