Six years ago my caring, loving friend Celine Cawley died
Celine Cawley’s killing in December 2008 changed the lives of those closest to her. One friend tells how it led to anxiety attacks and the end of his relationship
Media portrayal: newspapers presented Celine Cawley as a tragic former Bond girl and model
Jailed: Celine Cawley’s husband, Eamonn Lillis, was found guilty of murdering her. Photograph: Collins Courts
Six years ago my friend Celine Cawley died. I heard on the radio recently that the man responsible for her death, her husband, Eamonn Lillis, will be released from Wheatfield Prison for Christmas, with permanent release to follow in a further four months.
Eamonn was my friend, too, and little was I to know that on the morning of Monday, December 15th, 2008, my life would also change dramatically because of Celine’s death.
I had become close to Celine Cawley and Eamonn Lillis through my former partner Andrew Bradford, who had for many years been the senior producer at Toytown Films, of which Celine was managing director.
While Celine had a reputation for being tough and hard-nosed in business, my experience was of a woman who was protective of her team and would do anything she could to support them in their professional and personal lives.
She had taken me under her wing and into her confidence within a short time after we met in April 2007. We had something in common, in that we both cared about the same person.
This was not a side of Celine portrayed by those who knew her in business, and I remember being shocked just a week after her death to hear one of her peers refer to her by a vile term over the dinner table.
I was shocked but unsurprised by the attitude, as it was not uncommon to hear some in the production industry – mostly men – refer to Celine disparagingly. But to hear them a week after her tragic and highly publicised death was despicable.
It was also vile to hear and read the reports of Celine’s life in the media in the weeks after her death. In these accounts, she was a tragic former Bond girl and model whose weight had ballooned, a tough businesswoman who bullied her hapless husband into submission, an overprotective mother who showered her only child with expensive gifts.
To me it seemed the media were sending out a message that this woman – who had once lived such a wonderful and glamorous life – almost deserved to die, because as they saw it she was tough in business, was a bad wife and mother and, in particular, was overweight.
On the morning of Celine’s death Andrew had received a call from Eamonn, informing him that Celine had been attacked. I had left for work earlier with the car, and when Andrew rang me I felt that something was badly wrong; I decided to drive with him to Celine and Eamonn’s house, in Howth.
On the way we received a call from another member of the Toytown team, to tell us that there had been reports on the radio of a killing in Howth that morning. As we reached Sutton Cross we received another call, instructing us to go straight to Howth Garda station.
We arrived to find members of Celine’s family and others from the Toytown team crowded into a small hallway. We were ushered into an adjoining room. I could tell the news was bad.
In the confusion Andrew turned to me and asked what was happening. I sat him down, put my hands on his shoulders and, looking him straight in the eyes, I said, “Andrew, Celine is dead.”
Andrew quickly and instinctively took control of the situation. It was important to inform the entire Toytown team, some of whom were out of the country, before the news became public.
All we knew about Eamonn was that he had supposedly caught an intruder, having arrived home from walking the family dogs, and that he was being questioned in a room upstairs. At no time did we think that Eamonn could have been responsible in any way for Celine’s death.
The media circus that followed is well documented. For those of us who were caught up in it all the following days and weeks are clouded in shock and disbelief.
The lives of those who were closest to Celine will never be the same again. The trauma and stress that I experienced would eventually contribute to four years of anxiety attacks and the end of my relationship with Andrew Bradford.
This is what people fail to see when they get caught up in the sensationalism of the “story” as it infolds on the news and in the newspapers. Lives are changed forever, and the person responsible some day walks free.
In this case Eamonn Lillis will leave prison, apparently with enough money to start a new life, perhaps in a part of the world where nobody knows who he is or what he has done.
The saddest moment after Celine died was going into the Toytown office two days later to remove the Christmas presents she had bought. They were all wrapped up on the table in the boardroom.
Andrew and I filled the boot of the car in silence, then took them home, where they remained in our spare room for a short time. There were presents for everyone, even the partners of her employees.
That is the Celine I knew – caring, loving and thoughtful – and that is how I will remember her forever.
*This article was amended on December 15th