Writer and Author

The Crowd

With any murder trial there are the gawkers.  Members of the public who arrive on a Monday when the trials are doled out and work out which is the juiciest case to sit into.  They’re not allowed into rape trials (under the In Camera rule only bona fide members of the press and interested parties are allowed into these) but if there is a murder you can bet they’ll come out from under their stones as soon as the jury take their seats.

Ray Bradbury wrote a short story called The Crowd.  It’s about the people who come and stare at traffic accidents.  He casts them, not as simple ghouls, but as force of nature with power of life and death.  These are the people who raise of lower the thumb to decide if the victim lives or dies.  It’s one of his most disturbing stories.

When you see the same faces sitting in the back of the court, trial after trial after trial it’s hard not to think of the Bradbury crowd.  They come in every morning, pick a prime spot, usually in the middle of the extended family of victim or accused and settle in.  The more gruesome the evidence the closer they lean.  Well I suppose it beats daytime TV.

Now before you say it, I know I do the same thing.  I sit through a trial day after day and have been known to grade trials according to their degree of interest.  But there’s a difference.  A big one.  I’m paid to sit there and as a freelance, if the trial’s not interesting enough I’m not going to earn much money.  I don’t do it for entertainment.

The hard core of the rubber neckers will get quite militant about their right to attend open trials if, in a packed courtroom they are urged to move to the upstairs gallery available for the public.  They will treat the journalists with contempt, as if we are a corrupt filter attempting to stop them from accessing their god given constitutional right.  They intend to exercise this constitutional right…in the Joe O’Reilly trial they brought sandwiches.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favour of the public having access to the courts.  I think everyone should sit through a trial, to understand what goes on and see how everything works.  Not to mention that justice should absolutely happen in public (the reason for our attendance in rape trials – as the eyes, so to speak.)

The thing I have a problem with are the people who come again and again and again and watch with such relish.  In a case like the current one, in which a 17-year-old girl was found strangled and semi naked on wasteground, these watchers seem particularly inappropriate.

This isn’t entertainment.  It shouldn’t be viewed as such.  But the same faces in the Crowd will always come back for more.  This won’t be the last trial they come to and nothing I say will put them off.  They are a fact of public justice.  But like Bradbury’s preternatural chorus the Dublin contingent creep me out.

6 Comments

  1. Janina

    Brilliant and scary piece on the gawkers! Thank you.

  2. Clare

    As someone who’s been meaning to go and see a trial for a while, can you tell me how to go about it? I’m certainly not going to be one of those gawkers but I’d love to see justice played out before me. Do I just arrive at the four courts and go find somewhere to sit? It’s such a daunting building, I just wouldn’t know where to start.

    Thanks,
    Clare

    • Abigail

      Hi Clare,
      You can just turn up and wander into any trial that doesn’t have an In Camera sign on the door. Your best bet is to go to the Round Hall just past the reception desk where you’ll find Courts 1 to 4. These usually hold High Court Trials of rape or murder and have larger public access. You can find out what trials are going on by checking the legal diary on the Courts Service website – there’s a link from this blog to the site. It doesn’t give the charges but you’ll be able to match the names to any media reports and find out that way. The day usually runs from 11 till 4 with an hour for lunch.

  3. BREDA HAMMOND COURT SUPPORT SERVICE IRELAND.

    I WORK WITH THE COURT SUPPORT SERVICE WITH FAMILIES ATTENDING MURDER TRIALS.
    THERE ARE TIMES I WISH THE PUPLIC WERE NOT ALOWED INTO MURDER TRIALS.
    [1] I FEEL PEOPLE DONT RESPECT THE FEELINGS OF THE FAMILY WHOS LOVED ONE WAS MURDER.
    [2] PEOPLE ARE TAKING UP SEATS THAT ARE FOR FAMILY MEMBERS, GARDA, PERSS, WITNESS ETC…..
    I COULD GO ON WITH A LIST AS LONG AS MY ARM.
    ITS NOT THE GAITY THEATER, THIS IS WHERE PEOPLES FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS ARE RAW.

  4. BREDA HAMMOND

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    DOES THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE TILT IN FAVOUR OF THE CRIMINAL!

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    PAUL ANTONY MC DERMOT
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  5. BREDA HAMMOND

    A VERY DISTRESSING VERDICT WAS RETURNED IN 36MINS TODAY ON AN ABUSE TRIAL.
    THE VICTIM WAS A CHILD WHEN IT HAPPENED. IT TOOK 30YRS FOR HER TO GET THE COURAGE TO TELL ANYONE, AND SHE WAS A VERY GOOD WITNESS . SOME OF THE JURY WERE CRYING WHEN SHE GAVE HER STATEMENT.
    NOW FOR THE SHOCK ……..
    THE TRIAL JUDGE WHO IS WELL KNOWN, DIRECTED THE JURY ……… “IT WOULD BE WRONG TO CONVICT THIS MAN AS IT WAS SO ALONG AGO AND MORE OR LESS SAID THE VICTIM MADE EVERYTHING UP.;
    HE PLANTED THE SEED OF DOUBT IN THE JURY’S MINDS. AND IN 36MINS
    D I S A S T E R. …… NOT GUILTY ON ALL ACCOUNTS.
    WHAT STEPS CAN BE TAKEN TO PREVENT THIS HAPPENING. THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME THIS JUDGE HAS DIRECTED A JURY IN THIS MANNER. AND A NOT GUILTY VERDICT CAME IN WITH IN 15 MINS. IN A MURDER TRIAL.
    THE GARDS, D.P.P. SNR COUNCILS WERE SHOCKED AND ANNOYED AT TODAYS VERDICT
    BEARING IN MIND THE DEFENDANT IS SERVING 12 YRS FOR RAPING ANOTHER CHILD AND ANOTHER TRIAL WAITING FOR A TRIAL DATE .
    ANY COMMENTS WELCOME.

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