Writer and Author

Tag: Dane Pearse

Dangerous Mammy’s Boys?

I’m used to sitting beside people accused of murder.  When you work in a courtroom that doesn’t have a press bench you have to sit wherever you can.  An Irish courtroom doesn’t have a dock so the two roomy benches facing the jury tend to be a favourite perch for both the media and the accused.   OK the accused is usually less than happy to be seated there, but for us it has it all – space, somewhere to rest a laptop, a good vantage point.

Being left handed, I’m usually the one sitting furthest on the left, closest to the accused.  I’ve sat beside the Colcloughs, Dane Pearse and Gerald Barry (who we were warned had a tendency to bite).  Most recently I sat beside David Bourke when he told the court how he killed his wife.  I was close enough to feel the bench shudder as he sobbed into his hands when he sat back down.  I was close enough to see how he crossed his ankles, white socks with black shoes, while he listened to the evidence stack up against him.

It’s hard to be absolutely objective when you’re sitting in an emotionally charged courtroom all week.  All you can do is make sure partiality doesn’t creep into your copy but outside of that every one of us will have an opinion on the guilt or innocence of the accused.  When it’s a case that falls into a category, say wife killers or gangland or fratricide, there are a whole lot of extra preconceptions garnered from sitting through far too many of these cases to begin with.

Bourke was of course firmly in the wife killer camp.  He might have differed in some ways from those who had gone before; Joe O’Reilly, Brian Kearney, Anton Mulder, but you can’t help but compare.

One thing I’ve noticed about the rash of wife killers who’ve passed through the courts over the past couple of years is how many of them are the same basic generation with similar quirks and weaknesses.  Very often, for example, you will see an extremely close relationship with the female members of their own family.  We frequently have to share the long bench not only with the accused but also with droves of the extended family there to offer their support.  It’s often the case that it’s the women who give us the hardest time, who look at us as if they just scraped us off their shoes and tut as notebook pages are turned.

Joe O’Reilly’s mother has always been one of his most trenchant supporters, his sister was the one he emailed joking about her beating up his wife Rachel.  Brian Kearney’s sister spent much of his trial stroking his back when he got stressed.  It’s a common pattern. Bourke seemed to fit the bill in this respect as well.

I’m not for one moment saying these women had anything to do with their male relation’s murderous tendencies but sitting looking at them during their trials it was commented on that these were men who came from a generation when men in a female dominated family could be treated like little tin gods.  Picked up after, fed, made to feel they were the centre of the universe.  I’ve met men like that over the years.  They had a difficulty encountering a strong minded woman.

These men also show childish impulses.  O’Reilly had a room dedicated to Star Wars memorabilia.  The way Bourke cried on cue smacked of a kid used to stamping his foot and turning on the waterworks to get what he wanted.

I’m not making a hard and fast rule here.  There have been plenty of men on trial who were simply bullies and abusive thugs but the highest profile killers, the one’s branded middle class and media fodder, these were the ones who tend to fit the bill.  The cossetted princes of their own little fiefdom who simply couldn’t understand how the woman they had deigned to allow to step in to look after them should want her own way.

It’s staggering how often you hear stories from the witness stands about how the accused would niggle and bitch when he didn’t get his way, would throw a tantrum when things didn’t happen the way he liked it.  After you’ve seen the same story played out half a dozen times you can’t help wondering what the hell has the Irish mammy bred?

Was it this cosseting, this deference, that made them the time bombs that suddenly went off in their wives’s faces?  It’s a horrible thought.  Because if it did happen to be true how many more will there be?

Resolutions, resolutions, resolutions…

Every year since I was a child I’ve started each new diary on January 1st with a list of the resolutions I intend to fulfill throughout the year.  It’s not a particularly imaginative way to start the year but the habit’s stuck and so it continues.

In recent years, since I discovered the wonderful writer’s diary produced by the literary magazine MsLexia my resolutions have become more focused.  I still promise myself this is the year I’m going to get in shape, start fencing again, become a fully fledged domestic goddess and make more time for housework but it seems to make a lot more sense to resolve to do things I have a chance of following through rather than setting myself up for disappointment before I start.

So every year the first page of the diary is the home of my professional aspirations, a point by point plan of where I want to be by the end of the year.  Some resolutions have been in the same place for years but others have seen some definate movement.  It’s always interesting to look back over old diaries and see where you thought you were going.

This year was a tricky one.  I’ve never been in this situation at the turn of the year you see.  On the one hand I’ve achieved something I’ve been wanting to do for as long as I can remember and I’m closer to where I want to be than I ever have.  On the other hand I’m technically jobless and let’s be honest, it’s not exactly the best time to be looking for alternative employment.

Rather than simply throwing a load of ideas at the wall when it comes to resolution time, in the hope that at least one of them will stick, I now have to work out what I need to do to finally achieve my dreams.

On the one hand I’d like to concentrate on my novel, on the other building on the genre I’ve been writing in so far seems like the most sensible path, and the one that’s more likely to put bread on the table in the short term.

These musings probably sound rather self indulgent – after all I could simply hang on and push away exactly as I have been for the past couple of years.  After all, that’s got me where I am today.

It’s not that simple though.  I describe myself as a writer and a journalist on this blog.  It might seem like an unnecessary repetition but I think it’s an important distinction.  Journalism is what I trained at.  It’s how I pay the bills and hopefully how I will continue to pay them for the moment.  But writing is what I’ve always done.  Ever since I can remember I’ve told stories and woven plots.  I’m happiest when I’m making things up.

When I’m writing a piece of journalism or working on non-fiction I can tell the story and try to craft the existing plot into it’s sleekest form but I can’t deviate from the facts.  There are plenty of stories that need and deserve to be told in the world we live in and that’s why I love journalism but the satisfaction I get from telling a true story is nothing compared to following the thread of an idea inside your head and pulling in narrative rules until you have something that stands alongside reality, mirroring it but with your fingerprints all over it.

This isn’t exactly what I intended to be writing here.  When I started this blog it was to go hand in hand with the publication of the Devil in the Red Dress so this kind of artistic rush of whimsy was to be strictly banished in favour of clear, well-described facts and figures.

But this year, as I write down the latest batch of resolutions in the brand new writer’s diary I’m faced with the realisation that I’m going to have to start talking about this kind of stuff because like it or not it’s the writing I want to pursue more than anything else.

I’ll still be down at the Four Courts following trials from time to time but this year I want to pursue other things so you’re going to see a rather different side to me here.  I’m rather nervous about introducing a rather more personal aspect to this “personal blog” but I might as well start the year as I mean to go on…that’s what resolutions are all about!

So what can you expect to read here from now on?  Well if I’m down in the courts there’ll be more of my impressions of proceedings as I’ve done so far with trials like those of Finn Colclough and Dane Pearse.  But this year I want to write more about other things I write and the reality of being a (in all probability struggling) freelance writer/ journo.  I’ve been at this point several times over the years and I’ve always decided to do the sensible thing in terms of following the most regular source of income.  Well now it seems like a concerted push is needed if I’m ever going to have anything other than a double-barrelled profession.

God knows what I’ll be writing on the first page of next years diary.  This year it all feels a little bit make or break.  Wish me luck!

An Emotional Day

The family of Mark Spellman sobbed quietly as they listened again and again to accounts of the horrific wounds he received in an altercation with Dane Pearse.  Pearse himself hung his head and looked at his hands as the court heard accounts of a fight with a tragic ending that broke out in the small hours of August 4th last year.

His defence counsel Diarmaid McGuinness fiercely cross examined Spellman’s friends about what happened to lead to the altercation.  We heard that the night had started well.  Mr Spellman had been out with friends from Google where he worked.  One of them, Finbar O’Mahony was leaving to go travelling and by all accounts it was a good night.

Mark, Finbar and another friend Oisin Hoctor decided to go back to Mark’s flat in Sandymounth to have a few more drinks and spend the rest of the night playing on his Playstation.  His two friends told the court that the three of them were in high spirits, fooling around and joking as they slowly made their way towards Sandymount.

Hoctor bowed his head and laughed to himself as he heard O’Mahony describe tipping Mark over a low wall they were sitting on.  The deceased man had been in good form that night both men told the court.  Stopping off at a Spar shop on the way, Mark opened the back door of a parking car and made to get in, once again fooling around.

But the testimony rapidly took a darker turn.  O’Mahony told the court he had seen Pearse stab his friend in the side.  Pearse denies the murder of Mark Spellman but his defense counsel have acknowledged that he went back to his house and came back out armed with a bat and an ornamental dagger he had in his bedroom.  It was this knife that inflicted the fatal injuries.

Lola Simpson, in whose garden Mark had lain dying, painted a vivid picture of a terrifying encounter, overheard from her bedroom above.  She described how she had been woken that night by people talking loudly as they passed by the house.  She was lying awake in her bed, she said when she heard some more people approaching.

It was just “chitter chatter” she said, “quiet conversation.”  They didn’t have local accents.  She thought that some had been from the country and one voice was “very refined”.  She listened to them pass and settled back down to sleep.

Then she heard screaming and the sounds of panic.  She smiled nervously as she asked was it acceptable to say the words she had heard in court.  “You are not allowed to censor the evidence.”  Mr Justice Paul Carney told her from the lofty height of his bench.

Her garden gate, stiff at the best of times was slammed open with great force.  Then she heard someone running.  “It was very frightening running, a stampede towards my front door.”

She said she heard a shout, like a howl, which made her jump out of bed and rush to the window. Peeping out of the shutters she could see someone lying in the long grass at the end of the garden.  She hurried downstairs, stopping only to put on her slippers and dressing gown and went outside.

There she found Oisin Hoctor bending over his stricken friend.  He was trying to lift him up.  “He got him up on his feet.  He just melted.  He melted between the guys hands onto the ground.” Her voice breaking with emotion she described the wound she could now see in Mark Spellman’s side.  Mark’s family wept openly as she described a gaping wound, with his intestines showing through.

Finbar O’Mahony told the court that he had his phone in his hand when Dane Pearse walked by him out of the garden a short time before Mrs Simpson came out.  He said Pearse had blood on his sleeve and turned towards him as he walked away with the girl in a white dress he may or may not have been arguing with a short time earlier.  “You’d better get an ambulance for your friend,” he said calmly, according to O’Mahony’s recollection.

Another Night Out that Ended in Tragedy

The trial of Dane Pearse started today.  The 21-year old, from Londonbridge Drive in Islandbridge in Dublin 4, is accused of the murder of Mark Spellman (26) who died from stab wounds after an altercation on an August night last year.  He denies the charge.

Today we heard evidence from one of Mr Spellman’s friends, Oisin Hoctor, who told the court that he and Mr Spellman had been at a leaving do for a colleague of theirs from the Google offices in Dublin.

The evening had started out pleasantly enough, he said, with him enjoying a couple of pints in the beer garden of the Beggars Bush pub on Haddington Road. He was joined by Mr Spellman and his girlfriend and eventually, after a couple more pints they moved on the the leaving party which was being held at the 51 pub nearby.

At the end of the night, Mr Hoctor, Mr Spellman and another friend headed off.  There had been the suggestion of a party and Mr Hoctor told the court he was hoping to persuade Mr Spellman to go to that as the three of them walked along to a nearby Spar shop.

But the lure of video games and drink in the comfort of Mr Spellman’s Sandymount apartment was too enticing and a plan was reached.  They bought provisions; Pringles and some Coke for mixers, before starting the walk back.

Mr Hoctor described a normal enough night out.  He and his friend were fooling around, he said, and Mr Spellman was walking ahead trying to speed them up as the going was slow that night.  He said he had run home to fetch a bottle of vodka he remembered having and caught up the other two at a bridge crossing the Dodder.

He actually got there first, the others had slowed down again and took their time reaching him, he told the court.  But the evening that had started out so pleasantly was to have a tragic ending.

Mr Hoctor said he had barely noticed the couple walking ahead.  He and his friend were talking and didn’t notice that Mr Spellman had widened the gap between them.  He said he could hear some kind of shouting up ahead but didn’t think much of it.

When Mr Spellman reached Londonbridge Road, the corner of Londonbridge Drive to be exact, he stopped.  Mr Hoctor said he couldn’t see who he was talking to but told the court he and his friend speeded up because they knew Mr Spellman had got involved with something that wasn’t his business.

They arrived to see Mr Spellman talking to a man and a woman.  Mr Hoctor said the couple were both shouting and acting aggressively and he heard Mr Spellman say “Calm down, Buddy”.  He thought he was calling the man “Dave”.

Things escalated and Mr Hoctor told the jury that he saw the man run at Mr Spellman, who raised his foot and connected with the man’s chest.  The man ended up on his arse but seemed to calm down a bit.

There were more words and the two sides separated.  Mr Hoctor said they were laughing about the incident but he didn’t remember Mr Spellman explaining exactly what had happened.

A short time later they heard running footsteps and Mr Hoctor said he recognised the same man running towards them.  He said the man was holding what looked like two weapons one in each hand and was running straight at Mr Spellman.

The force with which they connected was enough to carry them into the middle of the garden of one of the nearby houses.Mr Hoctor told the court that he was panicking and couldn’t get the garden gate open.  It must have taken him several seconds and when he did get it open the man ran past him, away down Londonbridge Drive.

Mr Hoctor fought back tears as he described finding his friend in the darkness of the garden.  He saw a “shininess” in the light from the street lights and found a knife, he estimated to be about 8″ long.  He could see blood on the blade.

He swallowed as he described pulling Mr Spellman into the light so he could see how badly he was injured.  The court was quiet, apart from the sobs from Mr Spellman’s family, as he described seeing a knife wound on Mr Spellman’s right side.  He said he knew it was bad as he could see what he thought were intestines sticking out.

In the prosecution opening speech this morning we heard that two ambulances were called that night for both the deceased and the accused, who had returned home wounded.  We heard that Mark Spellman was pronounced dead at 3.25 that morning, August 4th.

The trial is expected to last until sometime in the middle or end of next week.  But once again, there are two families for who the events of that night will last much longer than that.

Another Monday, Another List

This week started, as do most of my weeks, with the Monday List in Court 1 in the Four Courts.  Everyone squeezes into courtroom to hear what they will be doing for the next week.

Members of the public called for jury duty jostle next to black robed barristers, all trying to hear what’s going on at the front of the room.  Women from Victim Support stand elbow to elbow with members of the prison service.  Members of the press lean forward to catch muffled words along with solicitors, accused men and women and the tipstaffs, there to watch the proceedings for the other judges, all strain to hear as Mr Justice Paul Carney allocates rooms, juries and judges to the cases listed to trial.

Every week the same ritual is played out.  The courtroom is filled to a hot packed crush and the cases for trial are dealt with in quick succession.  In the space of an hour or so all interested parties find out where they will spend their week.  Which courtroom, which trial and which evidence they will spend their days listening to.  It’s not the first time I’ve written about the throng and it won’t be the last.

Standing in the over heated crush, my arms pressed into my sides forcing me to hold my notebook under my chin, the pen held at an awkward angle all you can see are the bodies standing near by.  In the crowd it’s hard to see and hear outside your immediate vicinity.  The room is contracted to a disjointed series of vignettes.

From my habitual spot towards the back of the room, standing up against the radiator my bag stowed on the floor between my feet, I can see the annoyed expression of a woman as her name is called for a jury panel, hear the under breath huff as she pushes her way to the front.

There’s the secret smile as someone ducks their head in passing, their excuse accepted by the judge to allow them to escape jury service until their name comes round again.  The mother turning to wipe a tear away after pulling her son back to plant a kiss on his cheek as he is led away to start his trial another day.  The shaking of heads and laughter from the public when one of the solicitors objects to one more than their quota of dismissible jurors.

On another day when a trial is under way things happen in a well ordered, expected way.  On a Monday morning it feels like organised chaos and there’s a sense that anything can happen.  Tomorrow it’s down to work with the start of the trial of Dane Pearse.  Till then it’s on with the vignettes and the fragments.

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