Court room silent as Lillis takes the stand

SILENCE descended on Court 19 as the only person still alive to recount how Celine Cawley met her death began his evidence at the Central Criminal Court.

On the ninth day of his murder trial, Ms Cawley’s husband, Eamonn Lillis, finally got to put his version of events to the jury of six men and six women after counsel for the DPP earlier yesterday morning wrapped up the case for the prosecution.

Every pair of eyes in the packed courtroom turned towards the soft-spoken 52-year-old businessman as he moved his slight frame into the witness box at 11.57am.

Raised in Terenure, the former UCD student described how he built a career as an art director in the world of advertising and design. He also recalled how he went out of his way to make himself known to his future wife at an advertising festival in Kinsale in 1990 as Ms Cawley was arranging an Irish team which would be managed by Jack Charlton to take on a Rest of the World selection and he wanted “to play for Ireland”.

They found a love of dogs in common and enjoyed each other’s company. They arranged to meet up again when they returned to Dublin and soon they began dating. They married in July 1991 as Lillis explained they were both “old enough not to need to go through a long engagement”.

Celine had started her own business, Toytown Films, and he later joined the firm as he had good contacts with advertising agencies.

The company was very successful, which he attributed to his wife as “a good producer and highly regarded in the business”.

Talked through events by his barrister, Brendan Grehan SC, Lillis candidly admitted how his affair with beauty therapist, Jean Treacy, had begun towards the end of 2008 and how they had arranged to meet up in Dublin city centre on the morning of December 15, 2008. However, the lovers were never to keep that appointment as Lillis turned to the fateful events of that day.

The picture he painted of early that morning in their home at Windgate Road, Howth was one of a typical domestic setting that would be familiar in many families.

The silver-haired TV producer said he followed a normal routine of exercising, showering, letting the family’s dogs outside and making a cup of tea for his wife and daughter.

Lillis explained that he and his wife had used separate bedrooms almost since their daughter was born in 1992 as both snored and such an arrangement ensured they got a good night’s sleep.

On that morning he recalled waking Celine and getting into her bed for “a kiss and a cuddle” before watching some TV together. After dropping his daughter off to school, he returned home before taking the couple’s three dogs for a short walk.

Speaking quickly and in a low voice, Lillis had to be reminded on a couple of occasions to speak louder into the microphone. In the back row of the court, members of Ms Cawley’s family, including her father, Jim; brother, Chris; and sister, Susanna, listened intently as Lillis outlined how a row broke out between himself and Celine over his failure to put out food for the birds. She rebuked his forgetfulness as being “just bloody typical”.

Silence further enveloped the auditorium as he described how the row, which was “extremely vocal and nasty”, escalated, with both hurling abuse at each other.

Lillis insisted he had never hit Celine with a brick as he recounted in detail the progress of the scuffle between the pair.

He confessed to being “extremely angry” at being hit in the face with the brick that his wife had picked up off the ground after slipping on the decking although he accepted that Celine didn’t mean to hit him.

At one stage, he held the brick and suggested to his wife that she shove it “where the sun don’t shine”. Lillis acknowledged that she might have banged her head off the edge of a window as he was pushing her away as she let out “an almighty scream”.

He readily conceded that he pushed her forehead with his hand to try and get her to stop biting his finger, which led to them both falling on the ground.

“We had rows before but we never had a row like this,” he observed, saying they hatched a plan to pretend they had come upon a burglar in order to explain their injuries to their daughter.

Asked if she was OK, Lillis said his wife nodded back at him before telling him “to ‘go away’ quite strongly”.

While he could see that her head was bleeding, he stressed that he could not see how much as her hair was “incredibly thick and black”, while there was definitely no blood on the ground. “I didn’t think she was seriously hurt,” he remarked.

Lillis then outlined how he went indoors for between 10-12 minutes as he changed his clothes and cleaned blood off injuries to his face and hands. He also packed camera equipment and his blood-stained clothing into a refuse sack to keep up the pretence of a robbery for their daughter’s sake.

Asked why he was so concerned about this when his wife was also injured, Lillis replied that there would have been another row if he hadn’t done something while inside to give the house the appearance of a burglary.

Lillis wiped his eye and his voice trembled as he described how he noticed Celine was lying on the ground when he returned downstairs.

Despite calling out her name and shaking her chin, there was no response. He tried to feel a pulse but was uncertain if he was doing it properly.

Asked why he persisted with the story to gardaí and ambulance crews, he paused with a deep breath before responding: “I didn’t want people to know we had a fight.”

He didn’t change the story about the burglar when he later went to Howth Garda Station because he “assumed Celine was going to be fine”.

“I went into complete shock. I didn’t know what to do.” He later added: “I just got paralysed. I’m sorry.”

Lillis also explained why he maintained the existence of a phantom intruder even after his arrest for Celine’s murder five days later.

“I couldn’t see any way out. I had boxed myself into a corner. All week I was surrounded by Celine’s family and friends. I felt extremely trapped and there was no way I could explain this properly.”

In a shaking voice he described the uniqueness of the event. “I was never involved in any violence or a fight. I had never been in a situation like this where my wife is dead. I couldn’t believe it.

“Having said it I just couldn’t find any way of explaining to people what really happened.”

The lunch break came just as Ms Cawley’s father was becoming extremely distressed at the rear of the courtroom as Lillis explained how he faced up to telling their daughter a few months later the real story of how her mother died.

In the afternoon under cross-examination, Lillis was forced to concede to prosecution barrister, Mary Ellen Ring SC, that he had lied repeatedly about the existence of an intruder.

She pointedly noted at the outset that the accused’s own daughter had highlighted in her evidence earlier in the trial how she had been brought up to never tell a lie.

“Was that the work of her mother?” asked Ms Ring caustically, while also observing that he had practised lies and deception about his relationship with Ms Treacy.

He took care to state that his extra-marital affair had no bearing on his wife’s death.

Maintaining his composure over the next two hours, Lillis recalled how he had thought about the lie “every minute of every hour”, emphasising how it had originally been “concocted” to protect their daughter.

Asked if he had caused his wife’s injuries, he blamed “the struggle between us when we had a row”.

Pressed repeatedly on the issue, he replied: “I accept that I was a major participant in it.”

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