The seven guilty people, six men and a woman, sat impassively in court number 13, all neat suits and pressed shirts and controlled apprehension.
They stared into the middle distance, a space of emptiness in front of them that was filled by Judge Deirdre Murphy's vivid recounting of what happened that New Year's night in Tallaght. Her description of events amounted to a dystopian, Clockwork Orange-type vision of how a gang of young people, fuelled by alcohol and cocaine, set upon 20-year-old Dale Creighton and beat him to death.
He was attacked crossing a caged-in footbridge over the N81 Tallaght bypass between St Dominic’s Road and Greenhills Road, opposite Priorsgate Apartments, in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2014.
As he lay prone like an injured animal, fists and boots rained down on his head, torso, stomach, groin and back.
He was kicked as though his head was a football and beaten to a pulp before being flung, “like a rag doll with no independent powers of movement” down a flight of concrete steps, dying from his injuries the next day.
He was unrecognisable to his family by the time they got to see him in hospital.
About 70 people, many of them Creighton family members and friends, crowded into the court to hear Judge Murphy pronounce herself “quite satisfied”, nonetheless, that none of the seven people in the dock was “evil”.
‘Not bad people’
“In the court’s view,” she added, “they’re not even bad people”.
It was an assertion that prompted no audible dissent from the body of the court, even if it was hard to square it with the events she outlined as she sentenced each of the seven, describing, one by one, the role each played.
Dale Creighton was attacked, apparently in the belief that he had stolen Aisling Burke’s handbag and mobile phone after she left the Plaza nightclub. Burke cried out for help and her brother David came to her aid.
So too did Graham Palmer, Ross Callery, Gerard Stevens, Jason Beresford and James Reid.
The 14-minute-long assault, in which each of the seven participated to varying degrees, or did nothing to stop, was “prolonged and vicious” and involved the victim being “mercilessly beaten such that, at the conclusion of this assault, there were pools of blood on the floor surface of the bridge”, the judge said.
“During that beating, not one of the seven young people before the court shouted stop.”
It would be a comfort to society, she added, if such savagery could be explained by showing a propensity to violence on the part of the convicted. But they were all “pretty normal, average young people,” she said, adding: “It is the very fact that such normal, average young people could kill a person in this way that is particularly frightening for society.”
There was a culture among young people of sorting out differences by giving a person a “hiding”.
“Such practices are not confined to Tallaght. They also occur in the leafy suburbs among the most privileged youths in our society,” she said.
Rough justice was no justice, she pronounced; no person was entitled to take the law into their own hands, to become judge, jury and executioner of another citizen.
She handed out sentences for manslaughter of between three and 7½ years to Ross Callery, Gerard Stevens, David Burke, Graham Palmer, and Jason Beresford. There was a sentence of five years – with four of them suspended – for violent disorder for Aisling Burke, and two years for James Reid, all suspended, for possession of a knife.
Outside the court, Helena Darcy, a friend of the Creighton family, read a short statement, lamenting the shortness of the sentences, especially for Reid and Aisling Burke.
“The past three years have been extremely traumatic for our family as we’ve anxiously waited for this day,” she said. “Dale was then, and still is, the centre of our world. The happiness we once shared is now gone, as we can no longer enjoy Dale’s presence in our lives. It is only through the unending and deep love we have for Dale that gives us the strength to move forward.
“Dale was a shy young man who loved his family unconditionally; he was loved by so many people; he had his whole life ahead of him, but on that dreadful New Year’s morning, those people decided it was their right to take it away. Because of their vicious actions, we now have an everlasting ache in our hearts.”