Friday 22 November 2019

Jean Treacy's misfortune doesn't merit special treatment

The ring-fencing of Ms Treacy was unprecedented and is unlikely to be offered to many defence witnesses, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

JEAN Treacy -- the former lover of Eamonn Lillis, who has been found guilty of the manslaughter of his wife at their luxury Howth home in December 2008, eight weeks after he and Ms Treacy began an affair -- has asked the media to respect her privacy after the conclusion of the jury deliberations.

In a letter issued through her solicitors, Ms Treacy insists that she does not want to speak to reporters, either in person or by telephone, or to have her photograph taken. In that respect, her wishes couldn't be clearer. As the Evening Herald headline put it on the day the solicitors' letter was issued: "Leave me alone."

Whether that is a realistic, or even a reasonable, request is, in the circumstances, a separate issue entirely. Once Eamonn Lillis was charged with the murder of his wife, all of his actions and decisions became a legitimate matter for scrutiny. One of those decisions happened to be his relationship with Ms Treacy. That was unfortunate for her. Nobody likes to have their sex life paraded before a crowded courtroom, much less to have an audience of hundreds of thousands sharing those details later through the media; or to have their intimate text messages read out years after the feelings which inspired the honeyed words have long since cooled. To have to relive the exact moment when a relationship went from a professional to a sexual one must be mortifying on every level. Knowing that your family and friends are also having to deal with unwanted attention as a result is deeply embarrassing. One can only sympathise on a human level with Ms Treacy's vulnerability.

Beyond that, however, you can't really expect the world to obediently follow your desire to be left alone. From the start, there was a huge public interest in the killing of Celine Cawley. A former Bond Girl who ran one of Ireland's most successful ad agencies, the story of her death was bound to be headline news.

The level of interest became obvious last week as the queues of people wanting to get into the court increased daily; officials had to set up video screenings in a downstairs room to accommodate the numbers of people who wanted to view the trial. As an important witness -- one whose passionate relationship with Lillis provided him, in the eyes of the prosecution, with a motive to kill his wife -- Jean Treacy was always bound to be right in the centre of the storm.

The high-minded may find that shocking or voyeuristic, but that's the way it is. A woman died suddenly in her own home. Her husband was charged with her death. The husband had started an affair in the preceding weeks. Sex and death : it's the classic Hollywood combination. Add the couple's wealth into the mix and it's clear that, far from the public appetite to know more being an example of reprehensible voyeurism, it would be unnatural not to be fascinated. Taking all that into consideration, how could Ms Treacy honestly hope to carry on as a wholly private individual? That may be what she wanted, anybody in her shoes would long for the same; but it was never going to happen.

Ms Treacy simply had the misfortune to pick a lover who was destined, through no fault of her own, to entangle the pair of them in a sordid tragedy. So her romantic choices left a lot to be desired. It happens. It's horrible when it's you to whom it happens, but you just chalk it up to experience and try as best you can to make some sense of the mess. Indeed, that seems to be what Ms Treacy tried to do. "I couldn't understand how I'd made such a bad judgement of character," as she said in court. "Had I missed something?"

Everybody's been there at one time or another, going through a process of self-examination and recrimination after a relationship, which seemed promising at the start, turns sour. It's just that her experience was intensified to an unimaginable degree, and the whole thing was played out in front of thousands of watching eyes.

It's sad, but countless people have to live with the consequences of events which are not their fault.

Countless people, what's more, have to deal with worse. At least Ms Treacy was a grown woman when this happened to her. Celine's teenage daughter had to face the same public attention at the same time as coping with grief for a dead mother. Celine's family -- her father Jim, sister Susanna, and brother Chris -- have also had their every facial expression parsed and analysed as they reacted to the cross-examination of witnesses and the display of clothing stained with Celine's blood.

Ms Treacy has had a rough time of it, but no worse than anybody else involved in the case. In fact, it could be argued that she has already received more than her fair share of special treatment, as she was whisked secretly in and out of court through an underground entrance intended for members of the judiciary and gardai, in order to prevent the media getting a picture of her. The police even set up a road block to stop a photographer from getting too near to her.

The ring-fencing of Ms Treacy was unprecedented in an Irish court. And you could make a case that it was a necessary move, because she was a crucial prosecution witness; but it's hard to imagine that it is a facility which would have been offered to any defence witness, no matter how nervous they felt about being identified in public.

Either way, it was all beside the point, because, within days, Ms Treacy's picture was on the front of a number of Sunday newspapers, and inside the details of her life and background were being set down in black and white. There will be people, pettifogging Law Library types and the Legion of the Eternally Prissy, who will tut tut at that, because privacy is such a shibboleth now that many commentators practically treat it as a sacred right, but I must admit it warmed my journalistic heart.

The gardai can't put road blocks everywhere. Free speech keeps on escaping through the gaps. But then freedom always was a robust little devil, and the urge to meddle and pry despite all the efforts of men in uniforms to stamp down on human curiosity is one of the things which makes it that way.

So it has made life temporarily uncomfortable for Ms Treacy. She'll survive. Celine Cawley and her family are still ultimately the only real victims here.

Sunday Independent

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