The family of a businesswoman bludgeoned to death by her husband are speaking out about “complex and emotionally draining” court battles with her killer.
Celine Cawley was just 46 when her husband, Eamonn Lillis, beat her over the head with a brick during a row at the family home in Howth, Co Dublin, in 2008.
Her death was high profile at home and abroad as she was a former model, who appeared in a James Bond movie, and ran a successful film production company.
Ms Cawley’s relatives will today outline the terrible injustice caused by a gap in the law which allows killers to inherit assets they jointly held with their victims. In the case of Ms Cawley’s death, Lillis was allowed to keep 50pc of the couple’s Irish assets.
Now the Cawley family are calling for the urgent introduction of legislation to close the loophole.
In a speech to be delivered at a Women’s Aid event today, Ms Cawley’s siblings, Chris and Susanna, will say: “We do not want any more families to go through what we experienced.”
They will detail the legal battles they felt compelled to engage in to ensure Celine’s daughter Georgia was properly provided for when her killer father laid claim to houses and other assets.
The Cawleys say the years that followed Celine’s death have been taken up with courtroom battles.
Lillis (61), despite being convicted of manslaughter, maintained he was entitled to ownership of assets he jointly held with his wife, including the Howth family home and a house in France.
Lillis ultimately won the right to a 50pc share of Irish assets following a High Court ruling. However, a French court found he had no right to a share in the home in France.
As a result of the Irish ruling, Lillis held on to around €500,000 in assets. The other half-share went to the estate of the late Ms Cawley.
Chris and Susanna Cawley are now calling for the urgent introduction of legislation so something similar cannot ever happen again.
A copy of the speech they plan to give at the event this morning in Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital was provided to the Irish Independent.
In it, they say the absence of relevant laws in Ireland supported not just Lillis’s sense of entitlement to the assets, but his actual entitlement to them.
“The net effect of this in our situation was that although her killer was convicted of homicide and was serving a jail sentence, he had an automatic right personally to inherit all their joint assets. Additionally, he made no financial provisions for their daughter,” they say.
They detail how, in Ireland, High Court proceedings lasted four years, seven months with legal costs coming to €187,000. In comparison, the French proceedings, which they won, took one year, seven months with legal costs of just €16,000.
“Reflecting on this process, it seems to us that in France the common good and principles of social justice are upheld. It seems to us, this is not the case in Ireland,” they say.
Although the Succession Act says a killer is precluded from inheriting his or her victim’s estate and forfeits any inheritance, the law does not extend to property held jointly.
The loophole meant the High Court’s hands were effectively tied when it examined the matter in 2012. In her ruling, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy called for laws to be introduced. Six years later, legislation has yet to be introduced.
A private member’s bill was tabled by Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan last year, but it is understood the Department of Justice wants to review aspects of the proposed legislation.
Lillis was sentenced to six years and 11 months following a trial in 2010. With remission, he was freed in 2015.
He told gardaí he found an intruder attacking his wife in the back garden and even gave the name of a local man as a suspect. Detectives were suspicious and found clothing covered in Ms Cawley’s blood in a suitcase in the attic.
Lillis changed his story when the case went to trial, conceding there was no intruder and claiming his wife fell and banged her head on a window ledge during a row.
He had been having an affair with a masseuse, but he insisted that was not the reason for the argument.