Giving the Victim a Voice: Niamh O’Connor on the Graham Dwyer Trial
I worked as a crime reporter for twenty years, but when I went to the Graham Dwyer trial on the first day of evidence in January – it was to delve deeper into the theme of a novel I was working on that asks if anybody ever really knows anybody.
How had a 42-year-old architect, a married father of three, managed to dupe his nearest and dearest to lead a double life so he could sate his desire to stab and murder a woman?
I was there to find a voice, but it was the silence that proved deafening at the trial in the Central Criminal Court.
Graham Dwyer chose to avail of his right not to give evidence, and the family of the victim, Elaine O’Hara, would have been held in contempt of court if they had made any comment.
Imagine what it must be like to have to sit in the same room as the man the state believes has murdered your loved one, while another assassination is going on – of her character, without having any right to state: that’s not who Elaine was.
It was in the accused man’s interest to have her life reduced to mental illness and BDSM partners.
Imagine learning, as the childcare worker’s family and friends had to learn, how the 36-year-old had been tortured, mentally and physically, for years by a man in a suit a few feet away, a man, who had everything in life going for him – a job as an architect, a beautiful wife, and children, and home in Dublin’s most expensive suburb, and having to bottle up all your emotions.
Imagine if you had heard the sounds made by someone you loved when a man with a blood lust stuck a knife in her during sex and filmed it for his own sexual gratification.
Imagine finding out that the person you’d have done anything to help recover from depression because she was precious and special and loved, was being pressured when at her lowest point, because she was an object to Graham Dwyer.
Imagine discovering exactly how he had lured her back every time she tried to break off contact: with an offer of a baby, with feigned interest in her well being, with threats to kill her.
Imagine having hoped against hope for the recovery of her remains after she’d been missing for over a year, only to have her jaw transported in a white, sealed, medical bucket on the back of a courier’s motorbike from the morgue to the dental hospital to assist in identification, before you can afford her any last dignity.
Imagine knowing that the man in the room would have happily let you go to your grave never knowing what had happened to her, were it not for a dog recovering her partial remains in a remote mountain wood.
Now imagine what it must be like not to go through all that without being able to so much as look sideways at the man involved, right there in the same room, because the trial is ongoing.
I was a complete outsider, but I became completely invested in the need for justice, so it doesn’t bear thinking about how they must have felt.
The Central Criminal Court is a clinical and sterile place where when emotions get parked at the steps outside so that evidence alone can be analysed in a scientific fashion.
But every now and then Elaine’s voice would shine through, like in the letter to her cognitive behaviour therapist she wrote:
Dear Stuart, I’m sitting here and I’m so mad at you. I know you’re only doing your job, but I’m so f**king mad. Every day people have to make small talk, superficial talk. I do it every day and I understand why people have to do it. I always talk about the weather and how terrible it is, and how the summer is now over, and the children back at school in their coats. ‘Are you having a good day? Giggle giggle; How was your weekend?; How is your mother doing?; Did you go to the Westlife concert; That photo’s lovely; She is so cute.’ See I can do it, but I am scared to go any further. I know what I do is wrong. I know, I am not stupid, but I don’t need people shouting at me, making me mad. If you want to help that’s fine but you’re sounding like my dad, and sister, Sheila, my brother. You’re just imaging them and that makes me mad. I don’t need that – I’ve had that all my life. When I get mad, it makes me want to cut myself to release some of the anger. Every Tuesday I go to the Red Cross and volunteer… I volunteered to help out in the Tall Ships in August. I didn’t like your tone when you said I have to get out there and meet people because, as you can see, I am doing that, but it takes time. I don’t know what you want me to do otherwise, but making me mad won’t help me and I want to hide away. Is it worth me going back? Well as I find it hard to speak when I’m mad I thought I should write it down as sometimes I can’t explain it. I hope you don’t mind. Elaine O’Hara
I didn’t go to court to write a book about the case, but having been reminded how heavily favoured the scales of justice are weighted in favour of the accused so as to preserve his presumption of innocence, I got side-tracked.
Newspapers were reporting what was going on, but by adhering to strict rules so as to ensure they do not influence the outcome and risk the prospect of justice, and Elaine’s voice was lost again.
So I decided to write her story before I went back to my novel, and I put it up on Kindle for the price of a greeting card so it would be accessible to as many people as possible.
(c) Niamh O’Connor
Niamh O’Connor’s book, I’m Sorry, Sir went to Number One in its true crime category the day after it’s release on Amazon Kindle. Click here to get your copy.