Lack of evidence leads to acquittal in Sandra Collins trial

Martin Early wept after decision in murder case at Central Criminal Court sitting in Castlebar

Martin Early has been acquitted of the murder of Co Mayo woman Sandra Collins by direction of the trial Judge, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy. Video: Keith Heneghan


A 50 year-old plasterer accused of murdering a woman whose body has never been found walked free today after being acquitted by a jury on the instructions of a Judge.

Martin Early, Banagher, Carrowmore Lacken, Ballina, had been on trial for 17 days at the Central Criminal Court, sitting in Castlebar, Co Mayo, for the murder of Sandra Collins (29), Courthouse Street, Killala, at a place and date unknown on or about December 4th, 2000.

Today, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy told the 12-person jury there was insufficient evidence to convict and directed them to find the accused not guilty.

“For legal reasons, ladies and gentlemen, I am directing you to acquit the accused,” the judge said.

Martin Early, who had showed no emotion at any earlier stage of the lengthy trial, broke down and hugged members of his legal team.

But members of the Collins family, who later pledged to continue their efforts to “bring Sandra home” sobbed in the body of the court.

The construction worker who admitted in statements to gardaí to having a sexual relationship with Sandra Collins but denied killing her, smiled for the cameras but declined to say anything afterwards.

Following the ending of the trial, Sandra’s sister Bridie Conway gave the family’s reaction. “We are devastated,” she said, “after four and a half weeks of travelling up and down every day hoping that at the end of it all we would get Sandra back and that we would have closure, get our lives back.

“We have put so much on hold, all of us, four and a half weeks coming up and down, everyone’s life, not only mine, everyone’s lives turned upside down.

“I put my kids on hold, put my job on hold, put everything to the side.

“We were so devoted and so dedicated to her and to finding her and getting her back and we are so thankful and so grateful to everyone that has helped us the last 14 years in trying to find her.

“I couldn’t praise the gardaí highly enough for what they have done for us and I am as devastated standing here today for each and every single one of them as I am for us, because we know how hard they have worked and what they have done and what they have tried to do for us.

“And they want it as much as we did. They wanted to get Sandra back for us and closure for us.”

There were murmurs of agreement from the other family members when she insisted: “We’re not giving up. We’re going to keep strong and we’re going to keep the fight up for Sandra. We’re going to fight for her. This is not the end. It’s not finished. We said it a long time ago that we would never, ever, give up on her.”

Her brother Patrick Collins pledged: “The day we give up is the day that we can put her body in the grave beside our mother and her brother.

“We are as determined today to find her as we were when this trial first started and when this all started 14 years ago. This isn’t the end for us. It’s only another step along the road to bringing Sandra home.”

Bridie said: “We would hope that if there is anybody out there with information, that they might just come forward, that it’s never, ever, too late.

“Let them not think that whatever they know or may be holding in isn’t relevant or is too trivial to bring to the gardaí.

“The gardaí reassured us in that court today that their door is open in Ballina, always, and that Sandra’s case is never closed. It’s an ongoing investigation and will stay an ongoing investigation until we get her back and until we get closure.”

During the course of the trial it emerged that Mr Early, a married man with a daughter 11 months old at the time of Sandra Collins’s disappearance, admitted to a special team of Garda investigators in June 2001 that he had been involved in a relationship with her in the weeks before she vanished without trace.

Ms Collins was last seen in Killala at about 11pm on December 4th, 2000, after she had bought chips in the local Country Kitchen takeaway.

Despite massive subsequent searches of land and sea no body was ever found.

Evidence was given to the hearing by a GP that the missing woman had a pregnancy confirmed on the day she went missing and had been making phone calls to England on that day with a view to getting an abortion there.