Sunday 26 May 2019

Maeve Sheehan and Declan Brennan: 'Twenty-one hours of terror: How a shy teenager fell victim to a depraved rapist'

Eoin Berkley already had a history of bizarre and dangerous behaviour before his horrific attack, write Maeve Sheehan and Declan Brennan

Eoin Berkley was frequently picked up by gardai for nuisance offences such as abusive behaviour. Photo: Damien Eagers
Eoin Berkley was frequently picked up by gardai for nuisance offences such as abusive behaviour. Photo: Damien Eagers

Maeve Sheehan and Declan Brennan

Tall and sporting a mohawk haircut, 24-year-old Eoin Berkley cut a striking figure when he approached the naive Spanish teenager on the Liffey boardwalk in Dublin city centre in July 2017.

A fortnight earlier, the 18-year-old had arrived in Ireland from a small town in Spain. She was a little afraid travelling from home alone for the first time but excited to come here to improve her English skills.

Her parents had chosen Ireland because of its safety and its Catholic faith. They wanted her to improve her English and felt the stay away from home would help to improve her confidence.

Her family had placed her with a host family in a Dublin suburb for the duration of her month-long visit. Their daughter punctually called her parents every evening - but on July 15, her routine phone call didn't come.

Earlier that day, she had gone into the city centre on a day out. She spoke to her father on the phone and bought a Guinness T-shirt.

She walked down to the river and took a seat on the boardwalk where Berkley struck up a conversation with her. She noticed he had a v-shaped scar on his mouth but found him charming and listened with interest to his account of living on the beach.

She had never been to a beach in Ireland and agreed to go with him to see one. Little did she know she was walking towards an ordeal that would mark her for life and in the company of a man who, by his own claims, had stopped feeling any empathy towards others long ago.

Berkley, from Finglas, Dublin, led her towards the wasteland that is the site of the old Irish Glass Bottle factory in Ringsend. It was there that he would hold her captive, through a combination of brutal violence and blood-curdling threats to kill her, for the next 21 hours.

In that time, he would rape her repeatedly, subjecting her to degrading acts of sexual assault and convincing her she would die at his hands.

The young woman could not have known the danger ahead when she agreed to go with Berkley.

While this was without doubt a new level of violence and depravity for the young man, he had already shown himself capable of bizarre and sometimes dangerous behaviour.

The court heard that Berkley was placed into a foster home when he was four years old because his mother had considerable psychological difficulties which were compounded by alcohol.

At the age of eight, he was diagnosed with a speech and language impairment and later with a developmental language disorder. His incapacity to communicate led him to become defensive and he began acting out in school to the point of extreme violence.

Throughout all this, he came into contact with multiple state agencies and caring foster homes but Berkley seemed to be unreachable. By the age of 14, his foster family situation broke down because he was presenting as being difficult to manage. He was institutionalised at Ballydowd, the country's largest special care unit.

On his release, Berkley entered a lonely, unfocused vagrant life.

He was a minor player among the drug dealers, burglars, thieves and predators stalking the nocturnal streets of Dublin. He was frequently picked up by city centre gardai for nuisance offences like abusive behaviour and possession of knives. All too often, he presented in conditions that raised concerns for his mental health.

On May 29, 2016, gardai received a number of reports of a man walking around near Dublin Airport and Santry with what looked like a firearm. He was carrying a realistic-looking imitation AK-47 rifle which turned out to be an airgun capable of discharging 6mm ball bearings.

In September 2016, he was before the courts on a charge related to the fake firearm and other offences. He ended up receiving an eight-month prison sentence from which he was released in March of last year.

Berkley initially kept his head down and managed to stay below the Garda radar, at least for the first couple of months after his release.

By May 2017, he was showing signs of increasing volatility. According to new details obtained by the Sunday Independent, Berkley was stopped that month by gardai on suspicion of trespassing in Irishtown. He was charged and was later released by gardai on bail.

Several days later, on May 20, he was arrested in the city centre for daubing homophobic graffiti on the wall of The George pub. He was charged with criminal damage (of which he was later acquitted) and again released on bail. One of the conditions was that he stay away from The George and stay out of Dublin 2.

In June, gardai in Finglas sought to detain Berkley under the Mental Health Act but a doctor would not certify him.

That month, he was also found drunk in the city centre and arrested under the Public Order Act. He was charged and again released on bail, this time from Pearse Street garda station.

He was arrested again on another criminal damage charge that related to bins being set alight outside a pub in Dublin 2, the very area from which he had been banned. He was again released on bail.

Berkley was due to appear in the District Court in relation to these charges on July 17. Having breached his bail conditions so many times already, perhaps it would have been revoked this time.

But by then it was too late for the Spanish victim, described in court as shy and naive, who had crossed paths with Berkley just two days earlier.

Having lured her to a number of pitched tents in the derelict site, Berkley's mood changed dramatically. He pushed her to the ground and began strangling her. When she told him to stop, he just laughed at her and called her stupid. He said he had killed six others and she would be his seventh victim.

He told her that he had witnessed his father beating his mother and that he had stopped having feelings for other people since the age of 10. He said he enjoyed killing people, a boast of fantasy that says much about Berkley's total lack of a moral compass.

He tied the woman's hands behind her back using a dog leash and threatened her. She begged him to kill her in as painless a way as possible.

Berkley gave her a combination of morphine and codeine tablets, telling her to take them and that she would fall asleep and die. Terrified, the victim took them and soon fell down. She asked him how long it would take for her to die.

He was staring at her and then began sexually abusing her. Over the next 21 hours, he would rape her three times, all the while telling her he would kill her the next day.

The victim later said she was afraid to call out for help for fear of the danger in which she would be placing passers-by from Berkley. Convinced her life was on the line, she calculated that if she were to make a break for it, she would have only one chance. Berkley had told her if she tried to run, he would smash her head in with rocks. She believed him.

The ordeal finally came to an end when Berkley fell asleep and the woman ran for it.

Her father would later tell the court that the phone call he received from her, as she frantically ran around the derelict site, terrified Berkley would get her again, was a call no parent should ever get.

Screaming down the phone, she told him: "I've been kidnapped, he raped me, I'm going to be killed"

She stopped to vomit at one point and, fearing for her safety, her father shouted at her that she had no time to vomit. He told her to keep running in one direction until she came to houses.

By coincidence, the second house she knocked on was occupied by a Spanish speaker who took her in and spoke to her father.

Her mother told the court that she felt terror and panic when their daughter failed to make contact that Saturday night. Both parents knew something was wrong.

The mother's relief on hearing their daughter was found alive was brutally shattered when she heard what had happened. Travelling to Dublin, she found the face of her open-hearted and generous child now twisted in pain.

In a hotel room, she bathed her child. Once home, the victim's brother didn't leave her side, day or night, for the following months.

In her own account, the victim told the court that she can no longer go to the beach, that she wakes up shaking with fear, and she cannot go out alone.

She has no doubt that what happened changed her. But she has left some room for hope. She told the court: "I need to close this chapter in my life."

Perhaps the fact that her attacker will be locked up for at least the next decade may help her to do this. But even as he was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment last week, Berkley smirked and laughed it off, reportedly saying "the system has failed again".

Sunday Independent

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