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Tag: Joe O’Reilly (Page 2 of 3)

The Lure of the Financial Affairs of the Convicted

Yesterday in the  High Court the ongoing story of Eamonn Lillis made a brief appearance.  Lillis is serving his time in Wheatfield Prison in Dublin, anyone who reads the papers knows that his prisoner number is now 55511 and that he shares a landing with such high profile names as David Bourke and Finn Colclough.

But this latest twist in the story was of a far more practical nature.  As Celine Cawley’s husband, Lillis was automatically the executor of her estate.  Yesterday he relinquished that right and the role of executor was instead handed over to Celine’s brother and sister, Chris Cawley and Susanna Coonan.

A woman dies and the husband is accused of killing her these small details of a person’s death take on a new significance.  Whether convicted of murder or manslaughter or even acquitted, once the husband has been looked at in this way small matters of probate become front page news.  It’s actually quite unusual to see a story like this one, where the paper work has been filed at an early stage after conviction and matters appear to be running smoothly.

Compare the headlines in today’s papers, like this one or this, with the kind of stories that have appeared in the past.  Joe O’Reilly had a five year battle with his wife’s family over what name should be put on her tombstone. Brian Kearney has hit the headlines for his attempted sale of the Hotel Salvia in Mallorca that he ran with his wife Siobhan.  Both men were convicted of murdering their wives.

There were plenty of indignant front pages about attempts by John O’Brien to reclaim items belonging to his wife Meg Walsh, that gardai had seized when they were investigating him for her murder.  Despite the fact that Mr O’Brien was acquitted of the crime his involvement in these matters has continued to generate substantial column inches.

Eamonn Lillis is the latest man to enter the exclusive club of high profile Irish wife killers.  He was convicted last month of her manslaughter.  Despite the fact that a jury of his peers have decided he did not intend to kill his wife, although he was responsible for her death, his financial affairs especially those that are in some way connected with his wife, will continue to make news.

There has already been indignant coverage of the fact that Lillis will inherit half his wife’s estate and a half share of the money raised from the sale of her company Toytown Films.  I can see why these stories hit the headlines I’ve just seldom seen a case when the headlines is because someone isn’t doing something rather than because they are.

But then the Lillis case has been an unusual one in a lot of ways.


In completely unrelated news tonight I am a contributor on a new TV3 series on Irish television called Aftermath.  I was in last night’s episode talking about the murder of Swiss student Manuela Riedo in Galway.  The episode is now up online on the TV3 website if you fancy a look.

No Sign of an Appeal from Lillis

As of close of business yesterday Eamonn Lillis had not lodged any appeal of his sentence or his conviction for manslaughter.  This made the papers today because we’ve all become so used to seeing high profile appeals in murder and manslaughter cases.  Finn Colclough’s appeal yesterday for example or the upcoming appeal of Sharon Collins and Essam Eid, the subjects of my book Devil in the Red Dress. 

It was expected that Lillis would appeal, especially since his counsel Brendan Grehan SC, had asked for the jury to be discharged after they had been charged by Mr Justice Barry White.  Appeals of convictions can only be taken on a legal matter since the jury’s decision cannot be questioned.  Close of business day marked the latest time he could apply for an automatic appeal hearing.  That doesn’t rule out an eventual appeal, it simply means it will be a lot harder to do so as he will first need to apply for leave to appeal with the Court of Criminal Appeal.

It’ll be interesting to see whether or not there is an eventual appeal.  If not then Lillis will have the distinction of being one of the very few high profile convicts not to have appealed his sentence or conviction after pleading his innocence throughout his trial.  It’s the usual codicil after a high profile trial.

I could understand why he wouldn’t appeal though.  Throughout the trial he was extremely steadfast about his intention to shield his daughter from as much further stress as possible.  Of course we shall never know exactly why an appeal isn’t taken, and at this stage one still might be, but it is an interesting addendum to what has been a fascinating trial.

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.

The Ramblings of a Pompous Ass!

So Joe O’Reilly has been corresponding with the media.  One can’t help but wonder what possessed him to enter into an exchange of letters with journalists from the Star Sunday.  Has he not learnt by now that his proclamations of innocence continue to fall on deaf ears because most people in his country are too familiar with the facts of his wife’s brutal murder; she was bludgeoned to death so thoroughly that her blood spattered the ceiling above her body.

Today’s Star Sunday contains O’Reilly’s thoughts on his conviction and his life in jail.  He comes across, not as an evil cold blooded killer but as a none too bright pompous snob who boasts about the book club he set up in the Midlands Prison and once again tries to talk his way out of murder in the way he has ever since his wife was killed.

During his 2007 trial it came out that O’Reilly was in the habit of blabbing to anyone who would listen.  He commented to a friend that the gardai were looking in the wrong place for the murder weapon, ran through a blow-by-blow (excuse the pun) account of the murder for his wife’s family and talked to half the journalists in town about how he was the number one suspect.

Despite the fact that these tactics quite spectacularly failed to keep him out of jail, it appears that he still uses them.  His dazzling critisism of the mobile phone evidence that placed him near the murder scene at the time was confused to say the least.

“I will leave you with these thoughts/questions. 1.  Ever had a dropped call?  2. Ever lose your signal?  Have you ever stretched your arm 800 yards down a hill, past a door, through two doors, turn left, down a hallway, left into a bedroom, kill someone then leave the way you came without being seen? No? Me either.  But I HAVE dropped a call and I have lost a signal…SO, hardly water-tight technology eh?”

Brilliant!  I’m sure the combined forces of the DPP and the Gardai are quaking in their boots at such brilliant point scoring!  This is a man who genuinely thinks that he will be able to convince the journalists he is writing to, and presumably the public, that he loved his wife and was dead against domestic violence.  He conveniently forgets that his mistress, Nikki Pelly has been a regular tabloid fixture since his conviction and that vitriolic emails about his wife that he sent to his sister were one of the highlights of the evidence against him.

O’Reilly is either delusional or so arrogant that he thinks his charm will wipe any previous knowledge from the minds of those he addresses.  He obviously has some intelligence but not half as much as he thinks he has.  What struck me about the article was not his claims about the flaws in the prosecution or his cheeky suggestion that whoever murdered Irene White must also have killed Rachel.  The details that said most about the character of Joe O’Reilly were the priggish comments about films and books, details that reveal a snobbish idiot who crows about how only he and the prison librarian really enjoyed Barrack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope.

“That was one of the books a few of us read in here, as part of a small book club we have.  That actually makes it sound more grandiose than it is.  All the ‘book club’ is, is an initiative myself and a few others started up through the school and the library to get (well try to) people in here interested in books and reading.  Then giving them a platform by which to give an opinion about the book for that month.”

So now we have the the crusading teacher of the less fortunate.  The man’s idiocy truly knows no bounds.

These letters represent a massive coup for the Star Sunday.  Fair play to them for getting him to talk but ultimately what today’s article shows is how little the unrepentant convict has to say.  All you will hear when you talk to someone like Joe O’Reilly are justifications and obfuscations.  He’s not going to suddenly admit what he did, so you are left with the surreal ravings of an insubstantial alibi.  The same kind of idiocy that made O.J. Simpson write If I Did It.  It’s arrogance and attention seeking at their worst.  But it does make great copy!

A Broken Heart and the Faithful Followers

I was rather distracted today.  Too distracted to really register the Sun front page with the news that Ronnie Dunbar has dumped the women who yesterday was on two front pages pledging her undying love.  Apparently he nobly wants her to “go and live her life”.  Jordan and Peter Andre eat your heart out!

I know that people who are convicted of killing someone frequently have someone whose faith in them never wavers, someone who will wait until the ends of time to be reunited with them, who believes wholeheartedly in their innocence (one would hope).  Look at Nikki Pelley waiting for Joe O’Reilly no matter what comments it brought down on her. Or a case I have a particular interest in, Sharon Collins, who can rest assured, until we hear to the contrary, that P.J. Howard, the man she hired a hitman to kill, will be waiting for her release in five or so years time.

It happens all the time and they do say that love is blind but it always amazes me quite how blind it can be, or how steadfast…that’s probably showing a disturbing degree of cynicism but it kind of goes with the territory when you’re down the courts all day.

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?

A Family Ripped Apart

David Bourke has been found guilty of murdering his wife, Jean Gilbert.  He stabbed her four times in front of their three children, one morning after making the kids’ breakfast.  It took the seven men and five women in the jury a little over seven and a half hours to come to their decision and when it came it was with one dissenter, a majority verdict.

We’d all been expecting a majority, even a hung jury.  As the trial unfolded over a week even the judge made it abundantly clear that this was a clear case of manslaughter through provocation.  Jean Gilbert had been in love with another man and had made no secret of the fact.  She was planning to leave her husband and her children and run away with a former lover, a musician who shared her Buddhist beliefs.

The phrase Judge Barry White used repeatedly in his summing up to the evidence and his charging of the jury was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.  The question the jury had been asked to consider was whether this previously mild mannered, devoted husband and father had encountered this straw and “snapped” or whether he had petulantly murdered the woman he professed to love because she was no longer his.

The two possible verdicts polarised people.  Over the past week I’ve heard particularly dogmatic opinions on either side.  The judge even asked the prosecution (in the absence of the jury) to find out who decided Bourke would face a murder charge rather than manslaughter.  I think in the end what it boiled down to was the verdict that was perhaps technically correct, manslaughter by dint of provocation, to the one that seemed morally correct, that is murder.  The jury went with their hearts.  I’m glad they did.

Bourke was undoubtedly under tremendous stress in the days and weeks leading up to his wife’s death.  She had told him she did not love him, had never loved him.  He read letters and emails written to and from her lover.  The family that he held so dear, that he talked about to anyone who would listen, was being torn apart, a bolt out of the blue that he had never seen coming, a tragedy of the domestic kind.

But did that justify his actions?  The jury certainly didn’t think so.  They obviously asked themselves the question, is it ever justifiable to kill the person you love?  Is a crime of passion a lesser crime than a spur of the moment attack against a stranger? They decided it wasn’t.

It can sound strange when you hear closing arguments to hear the defence of provocation argued.  That being, really, really pissed off because of someone’s actions is an actual defence to murder.  It calls to mind cases of neighbour playing boy bands at full volume in the middle of the night, every night.  Undoubtedly there are times when people are goaded into violent action, unfortunate taste in music doesn’t have to feature.  The law allows for this kind of loss of control and it was this defence that David Bourke was using.

He said in evidence that he had wanted to hurt his wife the way she had hurt him, when he went into the living room brandishing a knife.  He said she looked smug, satisfied and happy, having just returned from an early morning tryst with the man she would leave him for.  He had never raised a hand to her before.  Was this the straw that broke the camel’s back and if so did that make it all right?

David Bourke was a very different man to the wife killers who’ve sat on that bench facing the jury over the past few years.  He didn’t claim a phantom intruder had killed his wife, as Joe O’Reilly and Brian Kearney did before him.  He didn’t deny dealing the fatal blow.  His wife wasn’t threatening to take away the children, only herself.

When the verdict was read out he sat very still.  His face reddened but he stayed composed.  Only when the judge left the court to allow for discussion about his wife’s family’s victim impact statement did he show any emotion.  As people milled around him and the journalists behind chattered excitedly and compared their notes he sat down heavily as his family closed in.  He was quickly surrounded and hidden from view.  He looked in shock, disbelieving.

Jean Gilbert’s family eventually gave their victim impact statement.  Her brother Robert spoke about the sister with infectious laugh and dazzling smile, who brought passion to everything she did. The women who was proud of having created the first jelly bear sweet with no artificial colourings or flavours.

But it was the quoted words of the three children who had watched their mother die that hit hardest. Bourke nodded very slightly as his daughter was quoted “I will never forget my mum.  She was the best, so nice.  I loved you and miss you so much.”  He swallowed as his son’s words were read to the court.  “I just really miss her.  I want my mum.  I want to go home to my mum.”

Speaking outside the courts the family were brief.  They decided to draw a veil over whatever had gone on within that family.  Whatever hurt the parents inflicted on one another it is the children who will have to come to terms with the loss of any normal family.

The more obvious verdict from a legal point of view might have been manslaughter but that verdict never did sit quite right.  It would have meant a jury saying that it’s OK to kill your wife if she pisses you off enough.  They obviously didn’t agree.

The Fourth Estate in Irish Courts

Going into work yesterday was a little like being in school out of term.  The Four Courts are buzzing any time they are in session and the quietness is particularly roaring out of hours.  I’ve been to Saturday sittings before as well as Vacation Sittings (held during the two month summer recess) and always enjoy being in the building when the throng is noticeably absent.

Yesterday, there to wait for the jury in the Manuela Riedo trial to come to their verdict, it was one thing after another.  A couple of things happened that really highlighted something that has irritated me for years…the attitude to the media here in Ireland.

Now I know there are places on earth where the authorities are a damn sight worse than here in Dublin, places where journalists work in danger of their life.  I’m not suggesting I work in a repressive regime just that things aren’t as easy as they should be.

The main thing that happened yesterday that underlines my point was not particularly unexpected.  In fact it happens on quite a regular basis if you work out of the courts.  It shouldn’t…but it does.

We had taken our seats for the jury to resume their deliberations.  As we had for the duration of the trial we all piled into the two benches where the accused sits.  This is normal.  There are no such things as press benches in the main courts of the Four Courts.  It’s not like the English courts where a press bench is standard.  We have to find space wherever we can but as press we’re allowed a much freeer reign than the public who have two allotted areas to watch justice being done from.

Usually the media sit either in the two benches behind the barristers or next to the accused.  We have to hear what’s being said and since the acoustics in the 200 year old building leave something to be desired sitting as close to the judge as possible is preferable.  If there are a lot of garda witnesses or the deceased in a murder trial had a large family the benches behind the barristers aren’t free.  If the case is full of salacious detail the public benches fill up quickly as well.  That leaves the seat beside the accused facing the jury.

Now to be honest this is probably the pick of the bunch anyway.  The accused has to be able to hear what’ s being said about him so you can hear everything that’s said.  Similarly you have a good vantage point to see reactions and the kind of details you need if you’re writing colour.  There’s also a handy ledge that’s just right for a laptop or a computer.

It sounds, if you haven’t seen the courts, as if this means that we’re sitting on top of the accused.  It’s not quite like that, these benches were designed to hold bunches of accused so they could potentially hold up to 20 people, if everyone squished a bit.  These days, to give the accused a bit of space there wouldn’t be more than 10 of us sitting there.  But sit there we do.  The judge doesn’t complain, the defence don’t complain, the accused doesn’t complain.  They all realise we’re just there to do our job.

That’s the way it usually is.  But not yesterday.  Yesterday we’d piled in as usual, leaving a large gap between us and Gerald Barry (as suggested by the regular prison guards since he had been known to lunge).  The judge came in and sent the jury out again and we all settled down to wait.

Barry had been led back to his cell.  He was in custody throughout the trial – he’s not a very  nice man.  We settled back with laptops, coffee and papers to wait it out.  The regular prison officers weren’t in yesterday.  It being a weekend.  The guys who were in looked at us with contempt.  We were cluttering up their nice courtroom with our junk.

One of them came over.

“Guys, seriously, the accused man deserves a fair trial.  Youse shouldn’t be sitting there crowding him.  You’re right across from the jury.”

“Yes, we know.  We’ve been sitting here all week.  We always sit here.”

“You shouldn’t be sitting there.  It’s not right.”

And on it went for several minutes gathering more and more angry journos to argue the toss.  Eventually we were left as we were, now rather irritated.  We had been sitting there all week and we most definitely had not been crowding the accused.  We’d been told not to by the weekday prison officers.  For our own safety.

It might have been a storm in a teacup but it really isn’t an isolated occurrence.  Earlier in the week we had been excluded for court while the defence looked for a day’s recess.  Not only were the jury present while this request was granted, the press are allowed to sit through legal arguement (though we usually choose not to since we can’t write anything when the jury’s not in place).

Over the past two years while I’ve been down in the courts I’ve encountered this kind of attitude more than once.  Prison officers who’ve tried to exclude me from rape cases (that happens quite a bit and has sometimes required the judge’s intervention), the whole court personnel moving into the judges chambers to hear evidence and having the door shut in my face.  Gardai who’ve confiscated computers because they could secretly broadcast proceedings.

You really have to know what you are and what you are entitled to if you work that beat here in Ireland.  As happened yesterday the familiarity of the challenge can result in quite a bolshie response but for god’s sake, we shouldn’t have to fight for our right to cover public court proceedings (and in the case of “in camera” cases like rape, we stand for the public who aren’t allowed in out of deference to the sensitivity of the evidence.

Justice is supposed to be done in public and that means that the general public should be able to read it when it comes wrapping their fish and chips, or listen to it or watch it.  It’s a pretty basic right and it’s mixed up in a person’s right to a fair trial.  It’s important.

Which makes it so irritating when the powers that be don’t seem to understand this.  There is a definite attitude out there that the media are vermin who should be at the very least discouraged,  at worst banned entirely.

Last year a debate took place, I think, in the Sugar Club in Dublin.  It was organised by one of the legal organisations and the motion was whether or not the media were out of control.  I don’t have the full details because the media were not invited.  Not one of the journalists who work in the Four Courts on a daily basis was invited and the owners of the two new agencies are there on a permanent basis were not even informed.  Only one poster went up and that was on the day of the debate itself.

We heard about it over the next few days though.  Apparently the event was mainly attended by newly qualified barristers who did not think much of the media as a whole.  The one account that appeared in the press (which I’ve been unable to locate but will post if I ever do) described a baying mob calling for the media’s blood in the wake of the sensationalist coverage of trials like Joe O’Reilly and Brian Kearney.

OK the coverage has got somewhat lurid on some occasions but that’s the nature of the press.  When that has happened editors have been called in and knuckles have been rapped by the judge.  But that’s obviously not enough for some people.

I get on well with a lot of barristers and court staff who I’ve got to know over the past couple of years.  We all understand that we each have a role to play and it’s easier to do that if everyone plays nicely together.  Apart from anything else, when you’ve waited hours upon hours for juries to come back the barriers tend to come down.

But some of the younger barristers treat us with suspicion and some of the Courts Service staff treat us like cockroaches.  Getting some information or facilities can be like getting blood out of a stone.  Almost any journalist I know who has had occasion to deal with different justice systems has stories about how wonderful it is to deal with press offices anywhere else.  When I was researching Devil I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get court documents in the U.S.  Here we’re dependent on the whims of the individual teams.

It’s easy to feel as if we are only allowed in on sufferance.  The absence of press benches wasn’t an oversight it was simply because someone felt then, as now, that the media didn’t have a place in the courts.

And just to make it very clear. I’m not hitting out at any of the wonderful staff who help get my job done on a daily basis.  This is just something that exists underlying things.  An attitude that seems to be fairly endemic in certain quarters.  This is a rant about that perception.  If it’s allowed to spread it could be very damaging not only to the Irish media but also to Irish justice.  Justice needs to be done in public, as does politics but that’s another matter entirely.  We forget that at our peril.

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.

And Back to Jail he Goes

The papers today are screaming about the failure of Joe O’Reilly’s appeal.  O’Reilly, for any non Irish readers, is a notorious wife murderer.  He was the first of the recent batch of high profile cases of this kind and ticked all the sex and violence boxes necessary for a media frenzy.  O’Reilly also had an unusual level of arrogance which led him to chat happily to various media outlets and even appear on the Late Late Show, Ireland’s foremost chat show.

Anyway, the appeal was heard back in December and the judgement delivered yesterday.  To read today’s front pages you would think that O’Reilly was the devil incarnate.  The Sun even goes so far as to call him “Devil Joe”.  Yesterday’s Evening Herald went into an orgy of satisfied gloating with eight pages of “analysis”.  It’s all standard tabloid hyperbole but the judgement was hardly much of a surprise.

When the grounds for appeal were announced last year the general consensus in the Media Room at the Four Courts was that it was all a bit lacklustre.  The defence had even applied to have the verdict over turned on the grounds that O2 Ireland, which was O’Reilly’s mobile phone provider and supplier of some of the most damning evidence, might not have been a legally licenced company at the time.  It really wasn’t the most inspiring set of grounds to appeal.

The thing was that before the details of the appeal were announced speculation was rife that there would be some strong grounds to appeal on the use of mobile phone evidence to position him in frame for the murder or the seizing of emails from his work.

With the grounds that finally did go forward I doubt there were many surprised, except apparently O’Reilly himself, that the appeal was unsuccessful.

The murder of Rachel O’Reilly was a particularly nasty and brutal one.  It’s hard to understand how any husband could do that to their wife but these things happen and they happen with alarming regularity.  Personally I don’t think that makes him evil though, and certainly not demonic.  Joe O’Reilly is arrogant and obviously thinks he is a little bit cleverer than anyone else.

The facts of the case prove otherwise.  He may be a sociopath but to call him evil or demonic elevates him to somewhere he shouldn’t be.  He’s simply an Irish man who killed his wife rather than go through a marriage breakup.  He’s not the only one and he certainly isn’t anywhere near being the last.  He’s no different from Brian Kearney or Anton Mulder, nasty cheap little men all.  But as the first he’ll always be beloved of the tabloids…well at least there’s no retrial on the cards!

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