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Aoife Finneran: Lillis rang work pals from garda station to say wife Celine had been assaulted but was okay -- she had died two minutes earlier

There was a cruel irony in the timing of it all.

As the ambulance carrying his wife Celine rushed to Beaumont Hospital, Eamonn Lillis was headed to Howth Garda Station to give details of the so-called intruder who had carried out a heinous attack. At 10.58am, Detective Sergeant Enda Mulryan commenced an interview with the accused, firstly inviting him to call the Toytown Films' office and alert staff as to the reason for the couple's absence from work.

Detective Mulryan explained: "He spoke to a girl on the phone and said 'someone assaulted Celine at the house this morning. She's in hospital now. Someone up at the house said she was going to be okay'."

Little did Lillis know that just two minutes earlier his wife had been pronounced dead.

Alien

Staff at Beaumont hospital had worked frantically to save her. But with no electrical activity of the heart and no response to their attempts at advanced cardiac life support, Dr Peadar Gilligan pronounced the patient dead at 10.56am.

It would be another hour before Lillis's family doctor informed him that his wife had passed away. The accused was upset at the news, and his doctor prescribed him some valium.

It wasn't even noon, but December 15 had already turned out to be a nightmare of epic proportions.

Yesterday, the family of Celine Cawley wept quietly in court as they relived once again the story of her final hours.

Adding to their visible grief was the continuous display of photographs, windows on the horrifying, blood-soaked scene where she met her death.

Lillis glanced briefly at the pictures on the screen, familiar shots of his own home rendered utterly alien thanks to the large pools of blood on the patio. In the background stood some garden furniture and a hot tub, the trappings of a rather luxurious lifestyle.

Sporting wire-rimmed glasses, the 52-year-old film producer rubbed his eyes tiredly on several occasions, twisting in discomfort on the unforgiving wooden courtroom bench as he perused a page of notes in front of him.

Judging from the descriptions he had given gardai, it had been an otherwise unremarkable morning in the exclusive family home Rowan Hill on Windgate Road.

Just 10 days before Christmas, an as-yet undecorated tree stood in the living room. On that morning, Lillis told gardai how he had woken and made tea for his wife and daughter.

He said he had slept in an upstairs room and that Celine, suffering from a severe cold, had slept downstairs. He recalled leaving the house between 8.15am and 8.20am, driving his daughter to school.

There was brief chit-chat with an acquaintance on the school staff, and he mentioned having put up the Christmas lights on the previous evening, only to discover that the bulbs had blown.

Wiry

He said he then stopped at the shop for a newspaper and returned home to take the three dogs for a walk. Upon returning to the house and entering the kitchen, he claimed he saw an attacker outside crouching over his wife on the patio. There was a description of the assailant's dark clothing and a description of his "young, strong, wiry" build.

Lillis even claimed that the balaclava-clad figure was "definitely a white male".

The house had previously been burgled, after which the couple had installed high fencing at the rear of the property. Explaining this to gardai, Lillis even went so far as to name a person whom he suspected of carrying out the attack on Celine.

In a further display, he described how the intruder had escaped, adding: "I would have gone after him if it wasn't for Celine." He also gave gardai an insight into his wife's character, describing her as a person who "would have confronted someone. She wasn't a wallflower".

And, having been furnished with Detective Kelly's phone number, Lillis called him the following day to provide additional detail about the intruder.

Yet, as he later admitted, it was nothing but a fabrication. There was no intruder, and no other person present in the house at the time his wife received the injuries that led to her death.

Grazes

Emergency services who had attended the scene at Rowan Hill had also provided first aid treatment to Lillis. He sported three scratches to his face, and a number of other grazes.

His left ring finger was bleeding, as the nail had split. However, he decided he didn't need hospital treatment, so paramedics bandaged up the wound before he made his way to Howth garda station. The trial continues today.


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