Abigail Rieley

Writer and Author

Tag: Sean Nolan (page 1 of 2)

Trial by Ordeal

There’s a debate going on in the British media about the treatment of victim’s family’s during murder trials.  It was sparked by the cross examination of the parents of murdered teenager Milly Dowler during the trial of her killer Levi Bellfield. 

Bellfield, the convicted killer of two other girls, had always denied Milly’s murder so his defence team had to proceed accordingly.  The controversy arose when Milly’s parents were reduced to tears in the witness box during a particularly thorough cross examination from defence barrister Jeffrey Samuels QC.  Milly’s father Robert, was forced to admit that he had been a suspect himself in the early days of the investigation and private family rows were dragged out in front of the jury and the waiting press.

On the steps of the courts Robert Dowler said the family had felt as if they were the one’s on trial and called the questioning of his wife “cruel and inhuman”. The policeman who oversaw the case has said he was “shocked by their treatment” and has called for changes to the way things are done.  The British Director of Public Prosecutions has said that the case has raised “fundamental questions” that need answering.

Since Bellfield was sentenced to a third life sentence on Friday column upon column has appeared debating whether victim’s families should be subjected to such harsh treatment on the stand.

My first thoughts on all of this? The silly season has begun.

This is one of those issues that tends to gather steam when the sun comes out and everyone’s trying to find a story that’ll run and run while the courts and the politicians take their summer holidays.  It’s the kind of story that suits this time of year.  I’m not saying it’s not a serious one, just that the hysteria that’s surrounding it is the kind that reaches fever pitch when there’s not a lot else to cover.

I’ve written countless column inches of the treatment of victims myself.  I’ve written about the way Celine Cawley was demonised during the trial of her husband Eamonn Lillis for her killing. I wrote the book on that one! I’ve written about how the judge in the Melissa Mahon murder trial called her parents’ victim impact statement “disingenuous in the extreme”. I’ve written about the two day grilling Veronica McGrath received from the defence when she was describing how her father had died at the hands of her mother and ex-husband, how this grilling brought up custody arrangements for her children and her own rape allegation against a former partner. 

Or there’s Sean Nolan, killed by schoolboy Finn Colclough. I’ve been accused of demonising Sean myself by writing about the trial, as I was considered too sympathetic to his killer.  Or the women who faced former pirate radio DJ and child molester Eamonn Cooke in court, sitting in a stifling courtroom without so much as a glass of water while he stalled the trial for more than a month.  I could go on.

Because you see I’ve written about the treatment of victims a LOT.  It’s part of the reality of what goes on in court.  Standing in the witness box isn’t fun.  You will be asked awkward questions, you might even be asked personal questions you would rather not answer. If you are a major prosecution witness who has a key piece of evidence against the accused you might feel like the defence are out to get you…well the truth of it is….they are.

But it’s not because they’re playing a game, it’s not because they don’t want to see justice done.  If anything it’s quite the opposite. The accused, until the jury says otherwise, is innocent and, just like any other man or woman in this state or another with a similar system, deserves a rigorous defence.  If you were accused of a crime would you have it any other way?

The presumption of innocence is not about protecting the guilty, it’s about seeing that the innocent get a fair trial.  It’s a good system and from what I’ve seen it’s a system that works.  It’s a system that we mess with at our peril.

The thing with the presumption of innocence is that it does mean that once in a while it’ll seem unpalatable.  Once in a while there’ll be a complete scumbag who deserves to have the book thrown at them, who will manipulate his defence team and will make things as difficult as possible for the family of the person they have killed or raped.  Someone like Gerald Barry who killed Swiss student Manuela Riedo and raped a French student in Galway.  Barry took to the stand to describe how Manuela had willingly had sex with him before he killed her.

It’s horrible listening to a killer justifying their actions.  Horrible when you’ve heard the post mortem results and know exactly what wounds were inflicted where.  Horrible when you know the truth is quite different.  It’s not pleasant for me, sitting there as a neutral observer. I can only imagine what it’s like for the family of the victim.  But it’s what happens.  When you’ve got an a cold blooded killer, an animal, a monster, they’re not going to fess up and make things easy for their victim’s family, they’re not going to worry about people’s feelings and they’re not going to worry about manipulating their defence team.  But it’s still the defence team’s job to defend them.

As I write this I’m trying to think of a trial where something like this hasn’t happened.  Where there haven’t been differing accounts of the killing or the rape, where key prosecution witnesses haven’t been grilled by the defence, where the guilty haven’t denied their crime.  Because one thing’s certain when there’s a trial.  The accused is saying that he or she did not do whatever it was that was done. Once that not guilty plea has been made there’s only so many ways the trial can go as both sides try to prove their version of events.

I wonder if Levi Bellfield had stood trial at another point in the year, when there was a royal wedding perhaps, or the Olympics or even just a low grade political scandal, would there be quite such an outcry at a trial which worked much like any other. I’ve nothing but sympathy for the victims of violent crime but the courts are about criminal justice and sadly victims don’t really have a place in that. They can be witnesses during the trial but they can only be victims when the jury has spoken and the person in the dock is no longer innocent.

When Children Kill

One of the most shocking things about the Drimnagh murder trial was the youth of the person accused of a savage, brutal attack that left two innocent men dead in seconds.  David Curran was only 17 when he murdered Pawel Kalite and Marius Szwajkos, too young to be named in the initial reports of his arrest.

He young enough to still be a young man when he’s released from his life sentence and when that verdict was handed down, as I’ve already mentioned here, he looked a lot younger than his now 19 years.  When I first started to cover the trial, in the second week, I initially thought, just based on the faces of the two accused sitting in front of me, that Curran was the one accused of the lesser crime of joint enterprise. 

I’ve sat near a fair number of killers over the past few years and it’s still surprising how ordinary those convicted of killing another human being tend to look but when the killer is still little more than a child it’s all the more shocking.

I’ve written at length here about Finn Colclough, who was 17 when he fatally stabbed 18-year-old Sean Nolan while Sean was out celebrating the end of secondary school.  Colclough was convicted of manslaughter not murder and earlier this year the Court of Criminal Appeal reduced his 10 year sentence by suspending the last two years of it.  It was a trial that provoked a vocal reaction from those who observed it.  There was, and I think still is, a perception that justice was not served in some way because Colclough came from a well off family and lived on the exclusive Waterloo Road in Dublin 4.

I’ve always said that manslaughter was the correct verdict in that trial and I haven’t changed my mind.  But after the Drimnagh trial I can’t help comparing Finn Colclough and David Curran.  Both had been mixing their drinks and both had smoked cannabis.  Both could perhaps have done with considerably more parental supervision and both took an action in the heat of the moment that resulted in an innocent man’s death.

There are, of course, several key differences that go a long way to explaining the different sentences.  Sean Nolan died from two stab wounds that, according the the pathologist, were consistent with the knives still being held while Colclough tried to push Sean away from him in a struggle.  Pawel Kalite and Marius Szwajkos died from almost identical wounds to the temple, caused by a screwdriver wielded at head height.  Curran’s attack showed a devastating aggression that obviously left the jury in no doubt that his actions were murder not manslaughter.

But you can’t help playing “What If” with the two cases.  What if Curran had come from Waterloo Road not Drimnagh.  It’s unlikely he would have spent his days robbing and getting out of his head on benzodiazepines but what’s to say he wouldn’t have still been binge drinking and getting stoned on joints.  He might not have left school so abruptly at the age of 15. 

Colclough had managed to stay in school, despite crippling OCD and ADHD when he was younger, because of the intervention of his parents.  If Colclough had been born in Drimnagh rather than the Waterloo Road would his crime still have been manslaughter?  Would he have acted the same and would the jury have reacted the same?

I’ve commented before on the similarities between cases but I suppose this time I’m more interested in the differences.  Both were 17 when they took a life and both looked startlingly young and vulnerable in court.  But Colclough faced his trial with his parents sitting with him in the court while Curran faced the verdict alone.  Curran did a horrible, grotesque and brutal thing and took two lives for no reason but because of where he’s from, the life he was living, we assume he is a feral monster, a simmering time bomb waiting to provide a cautionary tale of youth gone wild.  If he had been born into more affluent surroundings I wonder would the jury have found his defence teams explanation of the mind warping effects of benzodiazepines and alcohol more palatable.

The verdicts were what they were and the facts of the two cases stand but it’s interesting to compare the two trials. I’ve received a lot of criticism on this blog for showing any compassion for Colclough but I notice that hasn’t been the case so far with Curran.  Considering he is guilty of the worse crime I think that’s interesting.  I’m not coming to any conclusions on this just asking some question that might not even have answers.  But I know that whenever I cover the trial of someone so young I start to wonder…what if.

Revisiting a Familiar Case

Finn Colclough will get out of jail two years sooner than he was expecting after today.  He had appealed his ten year sentence for the manslaughter of Sean Nolan just before Christmas.  Today he learned he had been successful.  The three judge Court of Criminal Appeal ruled that Judge Paul Carney should have taken into the account that Finn would have willingly pleaded guilty to manslaughter when deciding on sentence.

Out of all the trials I’ve covered in my time down in the Criminal Courts the Colclough trial was one of the most tragic.  Finn had been celebrating the end of the school term, out with his family for a 21st birthday part.  He was only 17.

Sean Nolan was celebrating the end of secondary school. out with friends.  He was searching for a girl he knew Sara, in the Waterloo Road area of Dublin 4 when he bumped into Finn and 2 friends.  It was around 4 in the morning.

There was a misunderstanding, Sean and his friends were looking for a corkscrew to open the bottle of wine they had bought on the way.  Finn and his friends got scared when the older boys shouted from the road in their quest.

Finn came running out with 2 knives. Sean stepped forward.  They struggled.  Sean was fatally stabbed.  It was a case of almost breathtaking tragedy.  One that had no sense to it, no logic.

I’ve written at length on the case here in the past so I’m not going to revisit now.  I will say that in light of other manslaughter sentences Finn Colclough’s was on the long side.  The fact that ten years doesn’t seem long for taking someone’s like doesn’t come into it, these are the sentences the court hands down for manslaughter.  I’m not surprised that the CCA decided as they did and I shall be interested to read their ruling at a later date.

Speaking outside the new courthouse today Sean’s mother Charlotte Nolan said that she was happy the legal process was over and that the ten year sentence still stood.

She also called for urgent changes in legislation to tackle what she referred to as the “epidemic of knife crime”.  She’s not alone in this.  I’ve heard several judges including Paul Carney speak out about the prevalence of knife crime primarily among the young men in our society.  It’s a subject that we will hear of again, probably the next time a young life is tragically lost after a night of drinking. You may hear about, you may not.  Unfortunately there are so many cases like that going through the courts and not all of them have the handy hook of an exclusive address.

Now that the Dust has Settled

It’s been a hectic start to the year.  Since January 11th almost every waking hour has been taken up with the Eamonn Lillis trial.  I’ve covered it for the Sunday Independent and for Hot Press.  I’ve written about it here and on Twitter. I’m not the only one.  Pretty much every journalist in Dublin who covers the courts has been totally obsessed with the lives of Eamonn Lillis, Celine Cawley and Jean Treacy.

It happens every time there’s a big trial, the kind where newsdesks devote daily double page spreads to each days evidence, the kind we’ve been having once or twice a year since the flood gates opened with the criminal extravaganza that was the Joe O’Reilly trial.  I’m not getting into whether or not the media pay too much attention to big trials, after all it’s what I do for a living, but covering one like the Lillis trial is an all consuming experience.

I’ve covered courts on both sides of big trials.  When the O’Reilly trial was going on I had the job of covering every other murder that took place in that three week period.  It was a busy time, although you wouldn’t have known it from your daily paper.  Every day of the O’Reilly trial there was at least one other murder trial going on.  I covered all of them (luckily none of them actually ran at the same time as each other although there were one or two overlaps).

It’s a little surreal covering a trial when there’s something like the Joe Show going on next door.  There were days when even the accused seemed more interest ted in what was going on on the other side of the Round Hall than the evidence that was coming up in his own trial.  Maybe it’s because of the circumstances, or because I was still fairly new to the job, but I can still remember the names of the accused in each of those trials.  It might also have been because all three trials were acquittals, which don’t happen that often.

There was the taxi driver’s son acquitted of murder after he had been the subject of an unprovoked attack while he was walking his dogs.  Then there was the two traveller guys accused of attempting to murder another fella.  When they were acquitted the chief prosecution witness was one of those waiting outside the courts who lifted the freed men cheering onto their shoulders.  During that trial, the defence insisted the jury see a wall that featured heavily in the prosecution’s case so we all went on a junket to the estate.  The locals all came out of their houses to see what on earth was going on and Mr Justice Paul Carney posed for photographs.

Then there was the trial where the chief prosecution witness seemed to know a lot more than he let on.  Something the jury obviously picked up on as they acquitted the accused despite two days of particularly damning testimony from the witness.

I’ve been thinking about those weeks on and off this week because I suddenly realise that there were a lot of things I was supposed to be keeping an eye on that I’ve written about on this blog.  Ann Burke for example, the 56-year-old mother from Laois, who was convicted of the manslaughter of her abusive husband before Christmas.  I wrote about the trial here so I won’t recap but she was supposed to be sentenced during the Lillis trial.  I noticed several people have arrived at this blog looking for information on the sentencing so I checked it out.  As it turned out I didn’t miss it with all the Lillis circus.  Her sentencing has been deferred until March 22nd so I’ll keep an eye out.

Another one that’s pending is the result of Finn Colclough’s appeal.  Finn was convicted back in December 2008 of the manslaughter of Sean Nolan.  The trial got a fair bit of attention, partly because it happened on Waterloo Road in posh Dublin 4 and partly because Finn’s mother Alix Gardener was a TV chef.  I’ve written about it at length here as well so I won’t recap more than that.  Anyway, the ruling was deferred before Christmas and as yet there’s been no word.  Again I’ll write a post when there’s a judgement.  It looks like it might be an interesting one.

Now that the dust has settled there’s time to catch up on all the stories I missed.  I don’t think Lillis has gone away but at least there are no more crowds and things are getting more back to normal.

And We’re Back to The Subject of Sentences

No this isn’t a writing related post, I’m not talking those kind of sentences.  I’m talking about the sentences handed down by Irish courts, the Central Criminal Court in particular and Eamonn Lillis’s sentence to be specific.

Since he was given seven years on Friday the papers and the airwaves have been full of condemnation of judge Barry White’s sentence.  I agree that seven years, or six years and eleven months to be precise, isn’t a lot for the taking of a human life but it’s not an unusual length for a manslaughter sentence in the Irish courts.

I’ve written here before about the need for more severe minimum sentences for crimes  like manslaughter and rape but it’s an ongoing problem. 

When I was asked on Twitter what I thought the sentence was going to be on Friday morning I said that I thought it would be in the area of seven to ten years.  I was going by what I’d seen in previous trials and knowledge of the judge involved.  As it turned out Mr Justice White said that he considered the correct sentence to be ten years, but reduced it on considering mitigating factors – chief of which appeared to be the level of media scrutiny Lillis can expect when he gets out of jail.

I’m not going near the whole media as mitigation thing.  We do our job and Eamonn Lillis, or for that matter Jean Treacy, would not have been of interest if he hadn’t killed his wife.  That’s the way it works.  Newspapers wouldn’t waste the ink if stories like this didn’t sell papers.  While I’ll admit that some of my colleagues might fan the flames of interest quite strenuously, they, or for that matter myself, would not be concerned with this kind of story if it didn’t pay the bills.  As a species we are fascinated with our own kind.  Crime allows us greater access to the workings of people’s lives and minds than we get in the normal paths of our daily lives.  But I’m going off the point, this post is about sentences.

A lot of people are saying that Eamonn Lillis got what is perceived as a light sentence because he is rich.  His route through life might have been eased by money but when it comes to the courts it generally makes very little difference.  I’ve seen people at both ends of the social spectrum have the book thrown at them, for different reasons and I’ve seen sympathy shown just as diversely.

Finn Colclough, from Waterloo Road in Dublin, was given ten years for the manslaughter of Sean Nolan but it’s not just those with posh addresses.  In April 2008 21-year-old Limerick student Jody Buston was sentenced to a mere 6 years for stabbing a pensioner in the heart after wandering into his house and mistaking the old man for a ghost.  The year before three Limerick teenagers who had intentionally run over apprentice electrician Darren Coughlan after mistaking him for someone else were given a maximum of seven years.  Finally in November last year the first person to be convicted in the new criminal courts complex at Parkgate Street was sentenced to ten years for stabbing a man outside a Galway pub.

If sentences are too short in the Irish court system it’s generally not due to some partiality of judges or an old boys club of partiality in terms of the accused, it’s because that’s the way the law is.  It’s even worse when it comes to rapes.  I’ve written here before about the Court of Criminal Appeal overturning the life sentence handed down to Philip Sullivan who raped two small boys.  It’s a problem throughout the system and one, certainly that needs to be changed.

But shouting about it because of perceived social inequality is missing the point and allowing for the wider issue to be ignored.  Eamonn Lillis didn’t get seven years because he’s a millionaire, he got it because that was what he was always going to get if convicted of manslaughter.  The fault is with the system on this one, not the individual judges.

Two Families Devastated…

Finn Colclough was sentenced to ten years in jail today for the killing of Sean Nolan.  As I’ve written about here before, he was convicted back in October of Sean Nolan’s manslaughter after a jury found him not guilty of murder.

It was an emotional sentence.  Both families were out in force, as they had been throughout the trial.  Colclough’s parents sat behind him as he stood to hear his fate and the public benches were full of family and friends on both sides.

After a few bits of end of term, end of year court business the sentence got underway.  The sentence hearing started with a brief summary of the facts, which I’m not going into here.  They’re in the posts leading up to Halloween on this blog.  There was some speculation about what would happen at the sentencing since it was known that the Nolan family were unhappy with the jury’s manslaughter verdict.

Charlotte Nolan, Sean’s mother, got up to give a victim impact statement on behalf of the family.  Dressed in an elegant black dress she sat very straight as she read out the prepared statement.  Although her voice cracked several times, she made it through to the end with no tears, finally having the chance to tell the court about the son she had loved and missed so terribly.

She painted a picture of an enthusiastic young man, intent on following his older brother into the Gardai, who was brave and lively and well liked.  She said he was very clothes conscious, using any available reflection to check on his hair.

In the bedroom the family had felt unable to touch since his death, the price tags from the clothes he had worn to his graduation still lay on the bed.

She spoke about the younger brother, who had asked Santa for his big brother back for Christmas and spoke of the innocence her younger children had lost after their brother’s violent death.

“They now realise that some nightmares are not imagined and don’t end when they open their eyes.”

Colclough’s mother, chef Alix Gardiner, also took the stand in her son’s defence.  She handed Judge Paul Carney the hand-written letter, riddled with spelling mistakes that her son had written to the family of the boy he had killed.

The Nolan family shook their heads and tightened their lips as they heard the expressions of remorse.  Nothing was going to bring their son back to them after all.

We heard again from Dr Paul O’Connell, one of the usual suspects among expert witnesses who give evidence in trials like these.  He’s a consultant psychiatrist with the Central Mental Hospital and usually gives evidence in cases of diminished responsibility.  In this case though he was giving a clinical assessment of Colclough both before and since his conviction.

We heard again about the OCD, diagnosed when Colclough was 9-years-old and treated until shortly before the tragic events of May 26th 2006.  Colclough did not seem to be a violent person, he told the court.  The danger was more of self harm, rather than injuring another.

When he was attacked in Cloverhill Prison, by another inmate who took exception to being told to be quiet while Colclough was on the phone, he made no effort to fight back.

But knowing that Colclough’s actions were atypical is unlikely to be any comfort to the Nolan family who will have to live without their Sean from now on.  Charlotte told the court that next year, instead of preparing for Sean’s 21st birthday they would instead be shopping for a grave stone.

She said, “Sean, my darling, to the world you are a tragic loss.  To us you were the world.”

This was a sad, tragic trial.  The ten year sentence came as quite a surprise but as Judge Carney said when handing down the sentence Colclough’s reaction to the perceived threat from Sean and his friends was so extreme, when he was safe inside his own home with the door locked, that it warranted a higher sentence.

I’ll be going back to Christmas now, leaving the New Year to worry about what to do next, but for the Nolan family and, to be fair, the Colclough’s as well, it will be a bleak Christmas indeed.

An Interesting Conversation

I had an interesting conversation last night.  I had been out with friends at the Mont Clare Hotel on Merrion Square in Dublin but had to do a radio interview with Near FM. The folks at reception very kindly allowed me to take the call at the porters desk and everything went off swimmingly.

I was talking for around half an hour…I don’t think I let Pat, the presenter much of a look in, but Devil got a good plug.

It was only afterwards when I got talking to the girl on reception that another trial I have talked about here came up.  No matter what I talk about, the Finn Colclough trial keeps coming back into the frame.

Anyway it turned out that she had known the victim in that trial, Sean Nolan.  Obviously covering a high profile trial where there are a lot of press, there’s not really an opportunity to talk to the people involved…not that they’d want to anyway while the trial is going on.

We were talking about the trial and the eventual manslaughter verdict.  It was interesting to talk to someone with a personal involvement.  It’s easy to be too glib about these things when you cover them as a news story.  If we didn’t have the remove we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs but it does mean you can have too much of a remove sometimes.

I can totally understand how hard it was for the Nolan family to accept the manslaughter verdict.  Even if I might think myself that, given the evidence in the trial it was probably the only verdict the jury were likely to return, for them it’s never going to be any less raw than it was the day they heard the news.

I can’t imagine how any mother could deal with the loss that Charlotte Nolan has had to deal with, the loss of her younger son on the night he finished secondary school.  That’s something you can never forget and that will never get any easier to come to terms with.

It’s always interesting to meet someone who’s been personally touched by a story I’ve written about. Because no matter how much I might empathise, no matter how much compassion I might have the the victim or the accused, I’m always going to be at a remove, standing on the outside of the case observing it as it unfolds.

That’s just the nature of the job, but I can understand that others see the remove as unnatural or perverse in some way.  I might want to understand, to feel something to understand it better, but that will always be from a writer’s point of view and that means being on the outside.

I can see by the number of people who read my coverage of the Colclough trial, how raw a nerve this trial has struck.  It’s understandable, even if I might sometimes wish that more came looking for the book than for Finn Colclough and Sean Nolan.  There was something about that trial that made it different, it’s rare to see such a stark tragedy even amongst the daily litany of tragedies that makes up the day to day business of the Central Criminal Court.

I’m not sure how much I’ll be blogging next week.  I’m off down to Ennis again at the start of the week and I might be out of coverage.  More signings and interviews though…the book needs to be sold!

Two Nights Out, Two Very Different Crimes.

On Friday, Dane Pearse was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence for the murder of Google employee Mark Spellman.  During the two week trial the jury heard that Mr Spellman was returning home from a night out when he was fatally stabbed by Pearse.

Most of the press who sat through the trial had remarked at some point about the similarities between the Pearse trial and the one of Finn Colclough some weeks before.  In both cases a young man out for an evening of celebration met their death when a chance encounter played out to a tragic ending.

But these two trials had very different outcomes.  Pearse was convicted of murder after the jury heard that he had returned armed with a decorative knife after Mr Spellman had kicked him to the ground in an earlier meeting.  Colclough on the other hand was convicted of manslaughter after the jury in his trial heard that he had come out of his house holding a knife in each hand and Sean Nolan, the deceased, had confronted him taking  up to four steps towards him

Sean Nolan died after celebrating completing his secondary education.  Mark Spellman was heading home with friends after a night out intending to spend the rest of the evening playing Playstation games.  Both were in high spirits.  Neither young man deserved to lose their lives.

But despite the similarities between the two crimes there are some very definite differences, differences that led to the two differing sentences.  Both cases had a whiff of the traditional north/south Dublin rivalry.  Colclough was from the exclusive Waterloo Road, Nolan from the more working class Fairview on the north of the city.

In the more recent trial the locations were reversed (although this time both south of the Liffey).  Pearce grew up in working class Islandbridge while Spellman hailed from the salubrious coastal suburb of Dalkey.

But in both trials the old geographical and social preconceptions were less important that they might have seemed at first.  Both trials had their own peculiarities that guided the juries to their different verdicts.

In the earlier trial of Finn Colclough we heard the story of the tragic meeting between Nolan, on a 4am search for a girl he knew, and Colclough, who suffered from OCD and heightened nervous responses.  Tragically, Nolan’s response to square up to Colclough’s frantic attempt to scare him off led to his untimely death.

Pearse’s story was different.  He encountered Spellman for the first time when Spellman called out to him and his girlfriend as they ran down the road.  By most accounts Spellman was simply fooling around as he had been doing all the way home.  However things developed, there was a confrontation and Pearse ended up tipped over onto his backside when Spellman stuck out his foot at chest height in an approximation of a karate kick.

Pearse denied that hurt pride was his motive but it didn’t take him long to run back home and grab a souvenir bat and an ornamental knife from his bedroom. After a brief struggle Spellman lay dying in a neighbour’s garden.

Both Sean Nolan and Mark Spellman had received two stab wounds when they died but their post mortems revealed very different stories.  Nolan had only two wounds, on either side of his body.  One had cut through his lung and sliced his heart, killing him within the hour.  The wounds were consistent with simultaneous strikes and their were no tell tale defensive wounds indicating a lightening fast exchange.

Spellman’s body on the told a different story.  Both major stab marks could have been fatal.  One came from the front and the other had entered his back.  He had defensive cuts on his hands and forearms, the signs of a struggle for possession of the knife.

After the verdict had been announced on Sunday, Mark Spellman’s little sister Emma told the court in her victim impact statement that she had lost her “goofy” brother and that at his death “a little piece of all of us died too.”

Over the weekend Dane Pearse started his life sentence.  Finn Colclough will have to wait until December to learn how long he will serve in prison.  The two cases might have a superficial similarity but a closer look shows the differences.  For the Spellman and Nolan families on the other hand, the outcome was the same.  They have both lost a part of them and will have to live with the effects of those two night’s out for ever.

An Expected Verdict

After just under four hours of deliberations the jury in the Finn Colclough trial have handed in their verdict.

The courtroom was silent as the registrar took the issue paper from the young female foreman.  The tension in the room was palpable.  Several members of Sean Nolan’s family started to sob silently even before the jury had taken their seats.

The Colclough camp was silent, sitting straighter as the registrar unfolded the yellow paper.  Finn himself sat as he had sat throughout the trial, head down and staring at his hands.  His mother Alix gripped the back of his seat and stared straight ahead while his father Michael sat impassively.

“The jury find the accused, Finn Colclough not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.”

There was silence in the court.  As the judge completed the formalities the two families sat wrapped up in their own thoughts.  The only overt emotion was from Finn’s young friends when they heard he would be spending the weeks until his sentence on December 19th behind bars.

The Nolan family sat quietly.  Even his mother Charlotte, who had seemed so close to tears on many occasion during the trial, was dry eyed at the verdict.

Once Mr Justice Paul Carney climbed down from his high seat everyone stood around quietly.  It was almost eerily calm. The various groups stood around without talking, there was a strange deference in the room.

As usual in these circumstances the press were waiting around to see if anyone would speak to us.  At the midpoint of a Friday afternoon the normally buzzing Round Hall had the leaden calm of a funeral home as people broke off into small groups or wiped away silent tears.  Neither side had any cause to celebrate.  Neither had got the result they had secretly hoped for.

Even the traditional gathering outside the Four Courts was a muted affair.  No one really expected anyone to speak to the press, after all, it will now be almost Christmas before the story has a resolution and it makes more sense to issue a statement when the story has an end of sorts.

But what was extraordinary was the way, when the Nolan family came through the gates of the courts onto the Quays the only sound was the muted clacking of the cameras as photographers stood and took their passing shots and the reporters stood in a mute group, microphones pointed down waiting as the family hurried past them.  No-one stepped forward, no-one tried to speak as if this was a scene that ultimately we simply did not have a say in at this time.

Later, stopping off for an end of work pint after a bitch of a week, I watched Finn being led away from jail on the RTE evening news.  Looking still so young, even though he is now branded a killer in the eyes of the law, he was shown being marched in handcuffs towards the waiting prison van.  His walk seemed to take forever and it was noticeable that the route he was brought was neither the shortest nor the most secluded open to his guards.

It’s been a stressful day but my week I’m sure is nothing compared to the pain both families have and will suffer as a result of this terrible tragedy.

From now on it’s back to my favourite blonde and her Egyptian nemesis as I get ready for the Sharon Collins and Essam Eid sentence on Monday.  It’ll be a weekend chained to the computer but it’s necessary.  It’ll almost be a relief to deal with older subjects next week.  The story of Finn Colclough and Sean Nolan was a horrible, tragic mess that could only leave a bad taste and a sad memory.

The Jury’s Out

The waiting has started.  After a five day trial the jury in the Finn Colclough trial have begun their deliberations.

To a tense courtroom the two sides made their closing speeches.  Prosecuting counsel Mary Ellen Ring told the jury that they should come back with a verdict of murder.  She told them that Finn had a plan when he grabbed two knives from the kitchen in his home and ran outside screaming at Sean Nolan and his friends to “get the fuck away from my house”.

He could have dropped the knives, she said, when Sean came up to him demanding to know what he intended to do.  He didn’t so the decision, even if made in a split second, had been made.

Patrick Gageby, for the defence, had a different take on things completely.  The Nolan family shook their heads as he made his case that what had happened was an accident, provoked, at least in part by Sean’s foolhardy move.

As he made his speech Finn’s family listened intently.  His older brother Sean resting his head on his hands in the public seats as his brother’s case was argued.  Mr Gageby told the jury that the evidence they had heard from Dr Paul O’Connell showed that Finn had a condition that meant he had a particularly strong fear response.  He said that what had happened was a young man acting irrationally, as some young men are wont to do, but that made a terrible accident, not a murder.

As Mr Justice Paul Carney summed up the evidence they had heard Charlotte, Sean’s mother, shook her head as she listened once again to the evidence given by Finn’s two young friends who had been there that night.  When she heard her son described as aggressive and swearing when he asked for directions to the house of a girl called Saffy.

She looked at her husband Michael shaking her head and dipped her head towards him as he shook his head back.  Then for the first time she heard the evidence of State Pathologist Marie Cassidy as that too was reviewed.

They’ve been out for almost two hours now and will be spending the night in a hotel so we’re back again tomorrow.  For one family there will be bad news tomorrow whatever the verdict comes back.  But in a trial like this there are only losers.

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