Writer and Author

Tag: Alix Gardner

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.

A Tragic Accident?

Day four of the Finn Colclough trial and we’re into the home stretch.  Tomorrow the jury will be hearing closing speeches from the Prosecution and Defence before being charged to begin their deliberations by the judge.  So it is with every criminal trial just before the waiting begins.

Today we heard what Finn told the gardai when they interviewed him in the hours following the stabbing.  The transcripts of three interviews were read to the court by prosecuting counsel Mary Ellen Ring SC.  We heard his precise answers to the questions put to him.  He sounded as if he was struggling to understand what had happened.

As he told it, that night’s tragedy was nothing more than a terrible accident.  He said he had seen Sean Nolan waving a bottle at them, visible in the brightly lit kitchen, probably one of the few lit windows at that hour of the night.

They were looking for a bottle opener, we’ve already heard that from Sean’s friend when they took the stand earlier in the trial to give their version of the night’s events.  Finn said he only realised what they wanted when he came out of the house but before he stepped outside he had grabbed a pair of knives from the kitchen.

Finn told gardai that he came running out of the house screaming and waving the knives, wanting to scare the older boys away from his house as the misunderstanding continued.  Tragically, Sean stepped forward.  Finn said that he shouted at him “Are you going to use them and you shouldn’t be waving them around.”

There was a brief scuffle, the two came together before Sean stumbled back.  “You stabbed me, you fucking stabbed me.”  Finn said that he thought it was only a scratch.  He had felt something connect but had no idea what had happened.  He ran back into to house and looked at his hands and saw the blood.

We’ve already heard that Finn was diagnosed at the age of ten with OCD.  He was no longer receiving treatment at the time of the incident but told gardai he had wanted to wash the blood off his hands.  As he washed, he said, the knife fell into the sink and the water washed over it.  He saw the blood on the blade but said he hadn’t meant to wash it, just his hands.

He also told gardai that the three cans of deodorant he had been carrying when he first encountered Sean and his friends were purely for the purpose of personal hygiene.  He had been at a party earlier, he told gardai, and had been dancing, getting sweaty and smelly.

Finn sat in court today as his words were read to the court and stared at his hands.  The heat of the courtroom and the cold of the weather had obviously taken affect and he sniffed from time to time.  His hands constantly fiddled with a white tissue and he took nervous sips from a glass of water provided by his counsel.

When we heard the words Finn told the gardai, his apology for what had happened, Sean Nolan’s family shook their heads.  Finn had told gardai he was sorry for the trouble he had caused.  “It was an accident.  I really, really didn’t mean it.”

He didn’t even look up as the court was shown the two cans of Right Guard deodorant and a miniature can of Lynx, now just parts of the body of evidence the jury would have access to as they came to their decision.

They’ll start those deliberations tomorrow and we’ll have an end to this sometime before next week. But no matter what decision the jury come to there are two families who will never recover from that night.

Doctors and Histories…

There were a lot doctors taking the stand today.  It’s day three of the trial of Finn Colclough, and we’ve been hearing more of two sad young lives.

Professor Marie Cassidy was up first this afternoon, something of a celebrity in the confines of the Central Criminal Court.  Every trial that centres around a death has to hear post mortem evidence and that’s given by either Dr Cassidy, the State Pathologist or her Deputy Dr Michael Curtis.

She’s well practiced at giving evidence in terms that both a jury and the media can easily digest and her reports can give an impression of the person that lived rather than the body she examined.  Today she told us her findings from the body of Sean Nolan.

His family sat silently as she gave her evidence.  His mother Charlotte was absent for the first time since the jury was sworn in, unable to listen to her son reduced to a list of biological attributes.

The hot, packed courtroom was quiet as she described a healthy young man, six feet tall with closely cropped dark hair, dead from a 17cm deep wound that had cut in under his fifth rib, puncturing a lung and cutting into his heart.

Even when you listen to post mortem results on a regular basis they never cease to shock.  They underline how fragile we human beings are; that only mild to moderate force is needed to take a sharp knife 17cms into a person’s ribcage.

Most poignant today was a detail mentioned and discarded – an ink stamp on the back of Sean’s right hand.  It was the one detail that reminded us that Sean Nolan was just a kid who had finished secondary school that day.  But his celebrations would reach a tragic conclusion once he took the decision to call on a girl he used to know.  Never a good idea once it get’s past 2 in the morning…

Even more stark was the bloodied clothing, held up for the jury to see the cuts that the knife or knives had made.  His families faces froze as a bloodied white vest was held up, ripped to pieces by the medical personnel who had fought to save his life.

The accused breathed heavily as he hung his head – he hasn’t raised it throughout the trial.  His father, sitting beside him stared straight ahead.  Only his mother, the cookery teacher Alix Gardner, whose knives had caused the tears we were being shown, stared grimly at the stiff material, not taking her eyes away as first the vest then the grey shirt were shown.

Later on we heard another doctor tell us another history.  Not Sean Nolan this time but Finn Colclough, a witness for the defence called out of turn due to logistical difficulties.

We all trouped upstairs to the tiny Court 16, one of the few places the Central Criminal Court sits that had accommodate a video link.  The problem was that the witness we would be hearing from, Dr Paul O’Connell was on the other side of the world  and there was a brief window where time and technology would allow him to speak to a jury in Dublin.

Court 16 is much smaller than our usual home in Court 1 and there was standing room only even for families.  So surrounded by boxes of documents from civil cases we pressed into the room to listen to the words but no pictures.

Dr O’Connell is, like Professor Cassidy, no stranger to the Four Courts.  He’s one of the the top doctors in the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum and gets called in to assess prisoners in the Midlands and Portlaoise prisons.  He’s a frequent expert witness whenever matters of mental stability come into play.

Today his function was slightly different.  He wasn’t being asked to prove insanity, merely illustrate the “background and baggage” that Finn Colclough had been carrying around the time of that night last May.

Suddenly the oddly protective attitude shown by some of his friends when they took the stand was explained.  Finn it seems had been dealing with a condition for most of his life that had dragged him through five separate primary schools and added nine hours to his school week.

As the transcontinental connection whistled and boomed, Dr O’Connell’s disembodied voice told us that Finn had been diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of four.  Six years later it was confirmed that he also suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, leading him to anxiously wash the cutlery again and again and again and use five cans of Dettol on the floor every night as he tried to get the dirt of the outside world off his shoes.

We learnt that 13-year-old Finn had been taking double to standard adult dose of Prozac and had also been on an anti-psychotic Risperidone.  He’d been in treatment for years and had been responding well, to the extent that he’d finished his medication and his treatment six months before the incident that brought him to court.

The jury were warned not to take any conclusions away about what this evidence suggested until they had been properly charged by the judge.  This was evidence out of turn as often happens in trials when witnesses have limited availability.  But the impression was left from today’s evidence of two fragile young people for whom a night out ended in disaster.

A Very Public Private Tragedy

The courtroom has been very full this week as we follow the trial of Finn Colclough, who’s accused of the murder of Sean Nolan.

The deceased was only 18 when he died, celebrating the start of the rest of his life as he left secondary school behind him.  The accused was even younger, a student at the College of Further Education on Leeson Street in Dublin, at 17 too young to be named when he was arrested after the events of that night.  We can only name him now because he’s had a birthday in between

Unsurprisingly, when the trial concerns people so young, the families on both sides have attended in force.  Sean Nolan’s mother Charlotte sits on a bench behind the barristers with other members of the family, her face a mask of raw grief as she listens again and again to her son’s final moments.  From time to time she stars bleakly at the other family sitting at right angles to her.

The mother of the accused, cookery teacher Alix Gardner, sits behind her son, starring straight ahead of her avoiding the curious glances of the press, forced through lack of space to share the bench facing the jury that is the customary seat for the accused.

The three rows of raked public seating at the back of the court are full and there’s a press of bodies to the side spreading back to the doors.  These seats often fill up in the case of a trial that’s been in the news a lot, filled with curious passers-by and tricoteuses, but this time they’re filled with the pale young faces of the friends of both the accused and the deceased.

Every morning the Round Hall is filled with youngsters in their teens and early twenties, bunched in quiet groups waiting to take their seats in Court 1 to see this thing to it’s conclusion.  Some of them we have heard from, telling the tale of an ordinary Friday night out that took a horribly dark turn in a matter of seconds, the others are here in silent support of the two families.

They sit politely with the other family of friends who’ve come to lend their support and the courtroom is packed.  The posse of pensioners who attend every high profile murder have been banished to the upper gallery much to their dismay.

The press have begun to come down in force, colour writers joining the usual suspects of court and crime correspondents.  We bunch together taking our notes, laughing at daft jokes on what is just another day on the job.  It might be gallows humour but it still jars with the desperation that hangs in the air.

It’s harder to shake off a trial where the loss was so great.  Sean Nolan should be a student by now, Finn Colclough should be about to start the same journey.  Instead one is dead and the other is facing an uncertain future.

For the families and friends the events of that night will never be forgotten. For the press it’ll soon be just another story – but there was considerable relief when it was announced our bank holiday weekend would last till Tuesday afternoon.  A welcome break for us though it’s unlikely to be felt as such by the Nolan and the Colclough families.

The Latest Story of the Celtic Cubs

So we’re on the second day of evidence.  Finn Colclough with an address on Waterloo Road in the one postal address that has become a shorthand for an entire way of being and living, Dublin 4, stands accused of the murder of Sean Nolan, with an address in Fairview, an undeniably less swanky area.

It has all the hallmarks of a trial that will attract a lot of media attention.  Here in Dublin there’s always been an immense rivalry between North and South.   Even merely hearing the charges read out as the jury were sworn in on Monday it sounded like a tragic example of a rivalry that has perhaps become slightly less intense since the property boom meant people started moving anywhere they could afford a home.

Now we’ve heard a couple of days of evidence a different more complex story is emerging.  At the time of his death, Sean Nolan was 18.  He had spent the night of May 25th 2005 out with friends celebrating the final end of school.  The evening started with a mass to send all the final year pupils of St Joseph’s CBS School in Fairview on their way.

Then came a couple of drinks in the local pub, Smyths.  Nolan and a classmate, Ciaran Wogan then headed off to Bar Code nightclub in Clontarf.  It being a fine Saturday night and the evening still young, they got a taxi back into town and ended up in Reds on O’Connell Street where they met up with another school friend, Eric Treacy.

As the evening wore on there were several more changes in venue.  The lads went to Eamonn Dorans pub but were refused entry.  Then they tried the Q Bar but were unsuccessful there as well.  Eventually they went back out to their home turf and tried to get back into Bar Code but the time had flown and the doors were locked so Leeson Street was the next drunken stop.

But the experience was rather a disappointment and the trio moved on after trying a couple of different places.  Nolan said he knew a girl on the Waterloo Road and suggested they look her up.  Unfortunately it was approaching four in the morning at this stage so unlikely to be a good idea.

Meanwhile, Finn Colclough and his friends and family had been to a 21st birthday party in the Spy nightclub by the Powerscourt Townhouse in the southside city centre.  Finn had dressed up for the occasion wearing a ruffled green satin shirt and a black hat with a red flower in it.  Despite being under age he managed to get completely rat-arsed on the free bar that was serving cocktails to the party goers.

Once the club closed, the party moved back to Finn’s house at 71 Waterloo Road.  His parents went up to bed, his brother Anthony and a few of his friends holed up in the brother’s room working through certain relationship problems Anthony and his girlfriend were having.  Finn and two of his friends stayed down in the basement kitchen, used by his mother Alix to run cookery classes.

The crime scene photographs show a cheerful room dominated by a large table covered in a cheery red and white oil cloth.  Red and green plates are on the top of the dresser and the cookery school is hinted at by an impressive stove, two sinks and an impressive array of knives and other kitchen utensils.

Finn and his friends were just having a laugh, making themselves sandwiches, listening to music and dancing around.  There was some dope lying around so a joint was rolled and Finn went outside with a female friend to smoke it on the steps of the house.  The evening reads like an episode of the Channel 4 series Skins.

After a while they decided to take a walk and enjoy a bit of night air.  Finn has been described walking down the road carrying a couple of cans of Right Guard deodorant.  It’s unlikely they were for reasons of personal hygiene.

That’s when the evening took a turn for the worse.  Finn and his friends ran into Sean Nolan and his friends.  Sean asked for directions to the house of the girl he was looking for, a Sarah or Sara.  They knew who he was talking about but the younger trio were scared by the older lads boisterousness and ran back to the house.

Instead of moving on their way, Sean and friends stopped to try and get the wine open.  Ciaran Wogan, realising the younger three had taken fright thought it would be funny to run up and knock on the door.  Taunts may have been shouted or a corkscrew may have been requested but what happened next would change everyone.

Finn had grabbed one or two knives from the kitchen and now ran out of the house brandishing them.  Sean wasn’t the kind of guy to walk away from a threat and stepped forward to argue the toss.  There was a short scuffle and suddenly Sean fell back clutching his chest.  Within the hour he was dead and Finn Colclough was facing trial at the Central Criminal Court.

So this week the two families come together for the first time.  Finn sits in court every day his head hung, staring at his hands.  His hair is no longer the long, dirty blond badly plaited dreads that have been described in court and he’s lost weight since his initial arrest.  His parents sit with him as the evidence continues.  His brother and his friends sit in the public seats silently listening to the events of the night being told again and again.

The Nolan family sit on a bench behind the barristers, dressed every day in black.  His mother Charlotte fights back tears as her sons last moments are lingered over time and time again.  Her jaw is set and she takes deep breaths as each witness takes the stand but the tears arrived for the first time today as an ambulance driver told how Sean had fought for breath as paramedics tried unsuccessfully to save his life.

It’s easy to hear events described and see them as a thirty something whose days of watching the sun come up from the wrong side are a too distant memory and feel judgemental but looking back to a less responsible time I remember taking 4 a.m walks after a long night out or being in company where it was decided to look someone up whose family were distinctly unimpressed by being greeted by a rowdy welcome long before the dawn chorus.

Hell, I’ve been the one whose doorstep people have turned up on.  I’ve also in more recent times sat in numerous companies where the passing of those reckless days has been mourned and only occasionally winced over.  It’s easy to snort about the excesses of the Celtic cubs but has that much really changed?

The tragedy of this night in question was the way it ended.  Instead of everyone involved waking up some time on Saturday craving a fried breakfast and nursing hangovers Finn Colclough was sitting in a garda station and Sean Nolan would never have another morning.  Once all the evidence has been heard the jury will have to decide whether Finn Colclough murdered Sean Nolan or not.  Whatever the verdict two families will have to live with the effects of that night forever.

© 2022 Abigail Rieley

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑