So Sharon Collins and Essam Eid will both be serving six years in jail. The sentences when they were finally handed down after a long day of evidence and pleas for clemency. Then there was reaction to gather and copy to file. It’s been a long day.
So finally the story has an ending – at least until Sharon’s legal team get an appeal underway, as we were informed that they would do by her solicitor Eugene O’Kelly at the obligatory scrum outside the gates of the Four Courts.
The sentence hearing itself was particularly well attended. It’s hard to believe that in the early days of the trial, when people were still finding it hard to grasp just how extraordinary this trial was going to be, that there was room for any hacks to have their pick of seats.
Today was a different case entirely. What seemed like half the Bar descended like a flock of black crows, jostling for seats with the grannies that seem to multiply every time you look the other way. There was a particularly animated crowd of onlookers today, all taking their seats early for what did turn out to be one of the liveliest sentence hearing’s we’ve seen in a while.
Right from the off there was gathering excitement when word got round that PJ Howard, Sharon’s number 1 victim and simultaneously number 1 fan club had left his Spanish hideaway to support her in Court.
He took his seat beside his sons in the space they had occupied in the early days of the trial, two benches behind the barristers for the various parties. Sharon had also arrived with plentiful support. Her mother Bernadette was by her side, looking frail and tense. Her former husband Noel was there as well as he had been before to support the mother of his two sons.
And of course her boys were there. Gary and David as stalwart as ever sitting by their mother’s side, although today a prison officer sat between underlining her new status.
Essam Eid was last to take his seat. He was wearing a brown striped jumper with a lilac shirt, a deviation from his standard court uniform, and a dark suit. Sharon, in her usual black trouser suit had also chosen a mauve blouse – the first and only time they had coordinated during the long and eventful trial.
She had lost the few pounds that had been added to her birdlike frame at her previous court appearance and her hair looked freshly done, though still longer than it had been before her conviction. Her face was almost free of makeup and the tension was showing.
We started off with a run through of the well known facts. Chief Inspector John Scanlon took the stand and guided us through the investigation and the famous plot between Lying Eyes and Tony Luciano (see The Story Behind the Book).
Once we’d gone through the facts it was time for the victim impact statements. Robert and Niall Howard talked about their trauma and shock at such a plot so close to home and their embarrassment at being irrevocably in the public eye.
Then all the heads in the press benches came up as we discovered that not only was PJ going to take the stand but had hired his own counsel and had come to court with a solicitor. This could only mean one thing…that whatever he had to say was something that the DPP were not going to be madly happy about.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we heard that PJ had prepared a victim impact statement of his own but the DPP weren’t happy about it being read in court as they said it went somewhat beyond the bounds of these kinds of statements, being basically a character reference for the woman he was refusing to give up on.
So we were treated to a spat between PJ and the Gardai, in which PJ said no one had told him he could make a victim impact statement and the gardai said he had known that perfectly well. PJ took the stand to tell how he had been left out in the cold. Then Detective Sergeant Michael Moloney took the stand after a brief moment where he passed PJ on his way out of the witness box that showed the businessman’s animosity towards the authorities who had locked his partner away.
As they passed PJ leaned in and growled something under his voice at the Sergeant. There was obviously no love lost there.
He was eventually allowed to give his statement and read it from the stand. He sang Sharon’s praises and asked for her to walk free from the court on a suspended sentence. His pleas would not be successful.
Sharon had a lot of support today, there were character references from the Bishop of Killaloe and the Mayor of Ennis, not to mention an ode to her parenting abilities from her husband Noel.
Ultimately it would all come to nothing though. She still got six years, only one year less than the infamous Black Widow, Catherine Nevin herself.
Her co-accused Essam Eid, as always somewhat neglected in proceedings in which he had joint billing, had no such support but fared equally.
We heard that the dapper 53-year-old had a serious heart condition and needed long term medical supervision for that and his diabetes. He was isolated in prison we were told, spending his time alone in his single cell and swapping his poker for Solitaire.
Even so he’s also been given six years, although since he’s been locked up since his arrest in September 2006 he’ll be going home considerably sooner that the Devil in the Red Dress herself.
Sharon was dry eyed when the sentence was handed down but her fingers played with a button on her suit jacket which she held closed protectively over her stomach. Her bottom lip only began to tremble noticeably while she listened to her co-accused’s fate.
Afterwards there was the usual flurry of reaction and the press pack were rushing around the Four Courts trying to get every piece of the story covered. A group of use followed PJ to the Law Society photocopier where he provided copies of his statement for our eager hands.
Sharon’s views came through a statement from her solicitor and with them an apology to PJ for the scandalous letter to the Gerry Ryan Show that had been read out in court. It was incomplete and out of context she said, but stopped short of saying it was a tissue of lies. PJ for his part had angrily refuted every allegation as part of his statement.
It’s an unfortunate fact that none of that family will ever fade fully into obscurity. Their proximity to the story has lent them a fascination that will take a long time if ever to dull for the press. There was a lot of criticism from Sharon’s side about us today. She pretty much complained that she felt everyone was looking at her – which of course they were today.
So the next thing for me is to finish the book. It’s nice to see the finishing line in sight at long last, even if I’m going to be contributing to keeping this story alive when the book hits the shelves. But then – do stories like this ever really die – no matter how much those involved would like them to?