'The biggest loss is your hope, your faith and your trust in the justice system'
“I would march into hell quicker than go back to court,” says Marion Nolan, of Walkinstown, Dublin, after her experience of the trial of Martin Toland for the killing of her son Alan.
Toland was initially found guilty of murder in January 2010, but following an appeal and a retrial in June this year he was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison. The sentence was “a kick in the face”, Mrs Nolan says.
“The biggest loss is your hope, your faith and your trust in the justice system. I couldn’t honestly say to any victim of crime now, hold on and justice will be done.” Those working with the courts’ support service were kind, but the family was “torn apart” by their experiences.
“The first thing they tell you is to look straight ahead; don’t look at the judge or jury; don’t cry, or you could be influencing the jury. So you sit with your hands clenched, your body clenched, your head bowed every single day. It hurts when you go to stand up . . . There is no nature to it. It’s law; it’s a game between two teams, and whoever can come up with the smartest words is the winner. Your child is a pawn in the games and all of us, all the victims, are losers.”
Alan (28), “a brilliant lad”, was stabbed to death by Toland (36), on September 8th, 2007.
His mother recalls the moment she heard he was dead. On holiday in Santorini, Greece, with friends she was told to ring home and then hospital to speak to her husband because Alan had been in an accident.
“My husband came on the phone and he was crying; he said ‘Our beautiful son, Marion, come home, we need you’ . . . I was afraid to ask if he was dead. Then my daughter came on, she said ‘Mum, Alan’s with Grandad’. When she said that I knew he was gone.”
Her immediate and extended family, Alan’s girlfriend and her family and his work colleagues have all been affected by his death, she says.
Marion spent three years in counselling and some of her family also got support, including from AdVic, the victim advocate group. They in turn now advocate for justice for other victims.
Families should be part of the system, she says, and people such as her son’s employer should have been able to give character references for him and “put a face” on him. There should also be a minimum sentence for manslaughter, she believes.