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Cawleys tell of 'agony' fighting Lillis over assets

THE family of Celine Cawley, who was killed by her husband Eamonn Lillis, have backed a potential change to the law that would stop spousal killers from benefiting where they jointly own properties.

Ms Cawley's brother Chris has spoken of their "complete agony" pursuing the killer to secure daughter Georgia's financial future.

Lillis (57) will be released from prison early next year with more than €1m in assets, despite being found guilty of his wife's manslaughter.


The Cawley family were engaged in a five-year legal battle costing almost €200,000 to prevent the killer from profiting from the joint properties they owned.

Celine Cawley (46) died at her family home in Howth on December 15, 2008 after Lillis bludgeoned her head with a brick.

Lillis was convicted of her manslaughter and sentenced to six years and 11 months.

He then fought a legal battle in Ireland and France to secure his share in properties jointly held by him and his wife.

Chris Cawley, who said the legal battle was "distress upon distress", was speaking as the Law Reform Commission today launches an Issues Paper on succession law and spousal homicides.

Under the 1965 Succession Act, killers can not normally inherit any part of the estate of the person they have murdered, attempted to murder or killed in circumstances amounting to murder.

But where a killer has held a joint tenancy with the deceased, the full interest automatically passes to the surviving joint owner and the property does not become part of the dead person's estate, even if the surviving owner killed their joint tenant.

In 2011, the High Court ruled that the property held in a joint tenancy between Lillis and his wife did not form part of her estate.

But Ms Justice Mary Laffoy ruled that Ms Cawley's share in the property should be held on trust for their daughter Georgia.

In her ruling, Judge Laffoy called for clarity in the law.

"Ideally, there should be legislation in place which prescribes the destination of co-owned property in the event of the unlawful killing of one of the co-owners by another co-owner," she said.

On March 24, 2010, Lillis acknowledged that he had no entitlement to his late wife's assets that were held in her own name. But there were a number of joint assets including the former family home that were held in both of their names.


Lillis secured around €600,000 from the liquidation of the couple's business and more than €500,000 from property transactions.

In France, a judge ruled that Lillis was "unfit" to inherit an €800,000 property he co-owned with his wife, because he had killed her.

Chris Cawley said that Celine would be "thrilled" with the proposed changes to the law.

The Commission says it is asking whether the legal title should pass to killers or be held on trust for the victim's estate.

It is also asking whether the current law banning killers from profiting from their crimes should be extended to other forms of homicide.