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Tag: Alix Gardiner

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.

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.

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