Jennifer O’Connell: Stalking Lillis not in public interest

What exactly were the teams of reporters at Dublin Airport expecting Lillis to do?

‘Eamonn Lillis’s crime was horrific, and there is a genuine public interest in the subject of his release after a sentence of just five years and two months.’ Above, Lillis leaving Wheatfield Prison. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

‘Eamonn Lillis’s crime was horrific, and there is a genuine public interest in the subject of his release after a sentence of just five years and two months.’ Above, Lillis leaving Wheatfield Prison. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

If you’ve been paying any attention to the Irish media over the past couple of weeks, you’ll have learned a lot about what middle-aged men get up to at Dublin airport when they have an hour or so to spare before a flight.

They might browse in the duty-free section, perhaps buying some aftershave and toiletries. They might cast an appreciative eye over the whiskey section. They might even – gasp – buy themselves a crime novel.

Of course, this isn’t just any middle-aged man on the loose in Dublin Airport, this is convicted wife killer Eamonn Lillis, and so he didn’t just walk through the departures lounges, he either – depending on which reports you read – “swaggered” or “brazenly walked”, “without a care in the world”, where he was spotted purchasing some Paco Rabanne aftershave and a John Connolly novel (a “macabre” choice) – and this “spending spree using cash he inherited from the woman he killed”.

Reports filed by the team of not-very-undercover reporters on the scene revealed that he stopped at an “aluminium table” and “took out his folded and somewhat crumpled A4-size boarding pass”, presumably prompting alarm among the watching journalists. Is he safe around aluminium? How much damage could he do with that boarding card?

Lillis was next spotted lurking near a bottle of whiskey in the duty free, but he didn’t buy it. This begs all sorts of further questions. What else did he not buy, and why have we not been told? Hand sanitiser? A Crunchie?

And more importantly: what exactly were these reporters expecting him to do? It was unlikely he was going to fall to his knees in the middle of Terminal 1 and beg for remorse, or even oblige waiting photographers by picking up one of the newspapers with his face plastered all over it. In fact, there was slim chance he would do anything at all, other than what the thousands of people who pass through Dublin Airport every day do: browse aimlessly and make unnecessary cosmetics purchases.

Eamonn Lillis’s crime – the manslaughter of his wife, Celine Cawley, at their home in Howth – was horrific, and there is a genuine public interest in the subject of his release after a sentence of just five years and two months.

But the legitimate questions about the length of time he has served, or the Irish inheritance laws that allowed him to start his life again with €1.3 million of his dead wife’s money, were mostly drowned out in the trumped-up orgy of outrage. What would it have taken to have satisfied the reporters trailing him across the city? A public flogging?

This media stalking of criminals on their release stepped up a notch five years ago when convicted rapist Larry Murphy was released. But the public’s interest is not the same as the public interest, and the outcome on that occasion was predictable – and we can only assume not very helpful to Murphy’s victim. He went into hiding, reportedly surfacing in locations as disparate as Amsterdam, Spain and London.

This is not a plea for compassion for Eamonn Lillis, who deserves every ounce of misery he must now be feeling. Rather, it’s a plea for common sense. It’s hard to see whose interest is being served.

Not the interest of the daughter he had with Celine Cawley, who has reportedly severed her relationship with her father and is trying to get on with her life, a task that must be made more difficult by seeing his grim, hunted face splashed all over the papers.

Not Celine’s siblings either, who must already be battered by grief and their ill-fated court battle to prevent him benefiting financially from his wife’s death.

Not the public, who are hardly baying to know what brand of aftershave Lillis bought.

More useful would have been a much more comprehensive discussion about sentencing or the important question of whether our laws should be addressed so that no convicted killer can again benefit from his own crime.

But now that the high-speed car chase across town and the stalking in the departure lounge is over, Eamonn Lillis is already fading back into obscurity, and with him, those valid and urgent concerns about Irish property law.

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