Thursday 27 October 2016

Sinead Ryan: A wife killer strolls out after five years, so where's the justice?

When I saw the headline my first thought was: "Oops, there's a typo".

The story was about a wife killer being set free, not after serving a 15 or 20-year prison sentence, but apparently after just five. Well now that can't be right.

But unbelievably, it is.

Eamonn Lillis, the killer of Celine Cawley, the successful businesswoman from Howth, his wife and employer, is set to stroll out of the gates of Wheatfield Prison today or tomorrow.

He is being released early after remission, ie time off for 'good behaviour'- a deeply distasteful concept which infuriates many people who view criminals as de facto responsible for very, very bad behaviour.

To be sure this wasn't a mistake, I looked it up.

Lillis' whole sentence, for manslaughter, was just six years and 11 months (a month was knocked off the original seven years for time spent in custody).

One headline on the day after his conviction stated that he could be out "as early as 2015".

It might have seemed long enough then, but does it now?

To many, the Lillis case is so recent, most of us can recall the facts of the case without resorting to Google.

Now, at 57, Eamonn Lillis is still, by most standards, an attractive man of middle age, young enough to start again with life, work and relationships.

You'll recall he was already in two: married to Celine while carrying on an affair with a local beautician, so he'll no doubt want to pursue another. Whether or not a woman of any conscience would be prepared to take up with him is another story.

He'll not have too many worries about money, either.

Most of us thought the old principle of not being allowed to profit from a crime was true, but Lillis comes out of prison, not with his meagre belongings in a holdall, heading for the dole queue, but with a fortune well over €1m.

The jointly-owned house was sold in October 2012. The money from the television production company Celine ran earned him hundreds of thousands, while his pension from the company, ditto. They had an investment property which he also benefits from.

He's acquired new hobbies during his stay at the taxpayer's expense. There were art lessons, writing classes, three square meals a day and plenty of R&R in the library and gym.

So, all in all, Mr Lillis gets to enjoy a second life by biding his time. While Celine's was ended violently at just 46.

Having researched the facts I have another question: where is the justice here?

What of a close family, the Cawleys, pulled apart by this man's actions? What of the couple's daughter, effectively orphaned? What of friends, colleagues and wider family members who will forever be tainted by their association to Lillis?

Are they fearful, disgusted or annoyed? Was this sentence, shortened by the notion of good behaviour, 'justice'? Was it recompense for the loss of the life of a woman and mother? Was it a reasonable price to pay? To some who might be empathetic to Lillis it might even look like a good deal.


What galled people so much during the trial was the amount of lying Lillis did. It wasn't enough he had killed his wife, he made strident attempts to cover it up and even attempted to lay the blame on an innocent man.

His acting skills allowed him to pose as the distraught, overcome, protective husband, arriving home after walking his dog to find an 'intruder' had hopped over the wall and smashed his wife's head with a brick.

Despite overwhelming evidence, he maintained this fabricated story before finally revealing the row with his wife.

Yet it wasn't just the Cawleys who were affected by this man's actions.

"Your behaviour has had a devastating effect on people of all ages, from your father-in-law, who is some 80 years of age, down to your own daughter, who is 17 years of age," said the trial judge.

He might have added to that list us, the ordinary citizenry, who find our idea of 'justice' at an imbalance with the legal definition.

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