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.