Almost two years ago Eamonn Lillis killed his wife. He hit her over the head with a brick and then ran upstairs to fake a robbery to explain her wounds, while his wife, former model Celine Cawley lay dying on the frozen decking outside the kitchen.
He would later say in court, the highest profile murder trial this year, that he had acted like this to protect his daughter. He didn’t know his wife was so gravely injured, he said, and after a marital row had turned to violence both their first thoughts were for their daughter. They wanted to explain the marks from the fight on both their faces and so jointly decided to concoct a fictitious burglar.
Whatever went on that frosty morning just before Christmas 2008 we will never know for certain. We only have the word of the man now serving a six year sentence for killing his wife, who clung to the story of the masked bandit for far longer than good sense would dictate.
Now Lillis’s parenting is hitting the headlines again. It’s the latest stage in a an action started back in June by Celine’s brother and sister, Chris and Susanna Cawley. Under Irish law Lillis is not allowed to profit from killing his wife so loses his right to inherit her share of any jointly owned property. The Cawley’s are trying to ensure that he loses the right of his own share in that property, with the whole lot reverting to the couple’s daughter when she turns 18 later this month.
My heart goes out to that girl. This should be an exciting time for her, a milestone. But instead she has to watch her relationship with her only surviving parent raked over by the media and the general public.
This week the Cawley case took another step forward and was met by Lillis’s rebuttal. Chris and Susanna Cawley want Lillis declared legally dead so that his half of any shared assets will go directly to his daughter. But Lillis is fighting back. In an affidavit sent from prison he said he had discussed with his daughter what would happen when he got out of prison and that he had no intention of selling the family home of Rowan Hill, on Windgap Road in Howth.
“However the intention of my wife and I in placing the property in joint names as a joint tenancy was that our daughter would succeed to the property on the death of both of her parents. This is what I believe should happen.”
He added that she had been visiting him in prison and he intended to continue providing for her. “I want to return to the family home as her parent not as a sort of tenant at will or a co-owner sharing a jointly owned property with her.”
Providing for his daughter would be difficult he noted, since his manslaughter conviction rendered him virtually unemployable. "Many of my friends and acquaintances have distanced themselves from me. My reputation has been destroyed. My livelihood has been destroyed."
Because of this, he explained, he would also need the rental income from another house the couple had jointly owned in Sutton. Which, when added to half the proceeds from the sale of Toytown Films, the production company set up by Celine, should provide a sufficient income to allow him to keep parenting in the manner to which he has become accustomed.
Lillis insisted that losing his assets would be a punishment too far and that he had suffered enough. “Prison is a very difficult and alien world for me. However the greatest punishment is the geographical distance between myself and my daughter and the diminution in our relationship.”
It’s hard not to read Lillis’s words fighting for his assets without wondering whether his concern is for his daughter or his lifestyle. There was no indication during the trial that he and his wife were anything other than devoted parents to their only child. But she would be able to provide for herself once she hits 18. She already has her mother’s half of everything. She also has a very loving family behind her who will stop at nothing to protect her interests. Losing your money, when it’s taken away from you, doesn’t make you a bad parent, but this seems to be what label-conscious Lillis feels.
Anyway, the case is still ongoing. There’s been a three week adjournment but it will be back in the headlines before long. This is one story that will never really go away, sadly for all concerned.