Thursday, March 02, 2023

Olivia Kelleher

A judge has praised a woman for being “very courageous” after she detailed an ordeal she experienced when she had acid thrown on her face and boiling water poured down her back by a man who barricaded her in to her house to which he then set fire.

Simone Lee (43) told a Central Criminal Court sentencing hearing in Cork that she had been left with “lifelong scars, both physical and mental” following the horrendous ordeal by the 39-year-old father of three, Christopher Stokes, inflicted on her at her home.

The incident occurred in Fairview Crescent in Garryowen in Limerick on May 10th and 11th, 2021.

Sean Gillane, SC for the State, gave an outline of the facts of the case. He said that Ms Lee had been subjected to a horrific incident at the hands of Stokes. He detailed that at one point Stokes put a plastic bin liner over the head of Ms Lee and tightened it around her neck until she lost consciousness.

The ordeal commenced when Mr Stokes visited the home of Ms Lee who was his acquaintance on May 9th, 2021. He stayed the night and the following day he started getting agitated about money.

That evening he told Lee to contact a man in his seventies called Tim Fehin. He wanted Mr Fehin to drive him from Limerick to Charleville in Co Cork.

Agitated

Mr Fehin arrived at Fairview Crescent at about 8.30pm on May 10th, 2021. Initially the atmosphere was good in the house, but then Stokes became agitated and demanded that the pensioner drop him to Lidl in Charleville.

The trio got in the car. Stokes began to become aggressive with Ms Lee striking her repeatedly as Fehin drove. Mr Gillane said Stokes “struck her on the head on a number of occasions.”

Mr Stokes and Ms Lee went in to Lidl to buy alcohol and mixers. Fehin remained in the car. Mr Gillane said that on the journey back to Fairview Crescent Stokes became increasingly agitated for a second time.

“He struck her on the head a number of times in the car. He was hitting her over the head with a glass bottle. She was bleeding. Ms Lee was crying and upset. He wouldn’t calm down. He demanded that Fehin drive on towards Garryowen. Fehin was fearful. They got back to (the house) at 10.45pm.”

Mr Gillane said that when Simone emerged from the car she received “blows and a kick” from Stokes and fell to the ground. Fehin, who is a 71-year-old man, wanted to help Ms Lee, but Stokes wouldn’t allow him.

Mr Stokes barricaded the pair in to the house in Fairview Crescent by putting a fridge freezer in front of the door.¬† Mr Gillane said Stokes then continued “to strike” Simone.

He kicked her in the jaw and she hit her head off the TV stand. His language was aggressive and threatening.”

Mr Fehin pleaded with Stokes to stop, but he told the pensioner that if he didn’t shut up “he would get it too.”

Mr Gillane said that Stokes said that he was going to “cut her (Simone) up” and bring her back to Charlevile and “bury her.”

Finish the job

Stokes said he was going “to finish the job if the other eejit didn’t.” Justice Michael McGrath was told that this remark related to a previous assault which had been sustained by Ms Lee. The prior assault was carried out by another party.

Mr Gillane then said that the traumatic incident continued to escalate.

“He (Stokes) put a plastic bin liner over her head and tightened it until she lost consciousness. He wouldn’t allow her to go to the toilet. He told her to go in her own pants.”

When Fehin urged him to stop he warned him he would “get it too.” Mr Fehin managed to move the fridge freeze and escaped from the premises.

Det Garda Aled Harkin told the court that the incident further intensified.

“Ammonia acid was thrown on her (Ms Lee’s face) three times. A boiled kettle of water was poured on her back. ”

Mr Gillane said that the acid caused Ms Lee’s eyes to become blurry and the pain she felt was excruciating.

Mr Fehin raised the alarm at 2.45am on May 11th, 2021. A neighbour had also raised the alarm when he smelled smoke coming from the property.

House fire

Det Garda Aled Harkin said when gardai arrived “she (Simone) was covered in boxes and debris. She (Simone) realised her house was on fire.”

A neighbour told garda√≠ he had heard a commotion but fell back to sleep. When he woke again a smoke alarm was going off and he saw “a thick fog of smoke coming from next door.”

Ms Lee stumbled from the house. Mr Gillane said that Simone was in shock.

“Her head looked like a football. She was incoherent with shock. She was vibrating and shaking.”

The emergency services arrived at the scene at around 4.30am. They attended to Ms Lee. She had amongst other numerous injuries a swollen lip and burn marks to her face from the acid thrown at her.

Hospital

Mr Stokes was arrested at the scene. Ms Lee was taken to University Hospital in Limerick for treatment. She had bruising to the eyes, 10 per cent of the body surface on her lower back was burned from hot water, she had burns on her thighs and face and a CT scan revealed that she had sustained a subarachnoid haemorrhage. She required antibiotics and large amounts of pain relief.

Ms Lee was transferred to Cork University Hospital for plastic surgery. There medics deemed that 5 per cent of her total body surface had sustained burns. She underwent large amounts of skin grafting.

Justice McGrath was told that photographs taken at the time showed that Simone had sustained horrendous injuries including scalding to the back of her head, face and back as well as damage to her right eye.

Mr Stokes was interviewed on several occasions. At all times insisted he had done nothing wrong.

The court heard that he even claimed he saw that the room was on fire and tried to save Ms Lee.

Det Garda Harkin said that Mr Stokes refused to take any responsibility for his actions during his garda interviews. He noted that the defendant had 13 previous convictions for criminal damage, road traffic violations and drug use.

Mr Fehin was not present in court, but his victim impact statement was read aloud. He said that he was very frightened on the night and that the fact that he was unable to help Ms Lee would forever “haunt” him.

“I think about it every day. He told me he was going to kill me and bury me.”

Victim impact statement

Ms Lee went to the box and delivered her victim impact statement in person. She said that she was blind for three days after the assault.

“I was frightened I would be blind (forever). As a result of the arson I lost a home which I have lived in happily for four years. I lost all my possessions and when I got out of hospital I was living out of a bin bag.

I trust no one now. I am in counselling. I was very depressed after this incident. I was two months and four days in the burns unit in Cork. I have scars in my body which I still feel pain in. I was petrified I was in so much fear. I couldn’t sleep. I still struggle to sleep.

My family thought I was dead. I was unrecognisable. Even now I can’t wear certain clothes as I am conscious of my scars. I recently saw the photos of my injuries and I couldn’t believe how bad I looked.”

Ms Lee stressed that she was “a survivor and not a victim.”

“This is the second time in my life I have been violently assaulted. Christopher Stokes told me he would finish the job of the first assault. He told me I was worthless and nobody would miss me. I feel so lucky to have survived. I am a strong woman.

“I never gave up my fight to survive. I hope to make a positive impact on others to help other people who have been victims.”

Meanwhile, defence barrister Brian McInerney, SC, said that Mr Stokes wanted to apologise unreservedly to the victims in the case.

“He wishes he could turn back time.”

Mr Stokes of Sarsfield Avenue, Garryowen, Limerick previously pleaded guilty to three charges in relation to the incident. He pleaded guilty to assault causing serious harm to 43-year-old Simone Lee at Fairview Crescent in Garryowen in Limerick on May 11th, 2021.

He also pleaded guilty to making a threat to kill or cause serious harm to Tim Fehin on the same date in the same location.

Mr Stokes also pleaded guilty to a count of intentionally or recklessly causing damage by fire to the house in Fairview Crescent on the same date.

Justice McGrath remanded Mr Stokes in continuing custody until his sentencing hearing in Cork on Thursday. Stokes has been in custody since his arrest in May 2021.

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