A man who splashed acid on the face of a woman three times in one day, poured a kettle of water down her back, barricaded her in to her home after a vicious assault and then set fire to the property has been jailed for eleven and a half years.
At a sentencing hearing in Cork, Mr Justice Michael McGrath said that Christopher Stokes of Sarsfield Avenue, Garryowen in Limerick had carried out a “sustained, vicious, prolonged and frightening assault” on Simone Lee.
Mr Justice McGrath paid tribute to the “courage and fortitude” shown by 43-year-old Simone Lee who spent over two months in a burns unit following the incident which occurred at Fairview Crescent in Garryown in Limerick on May 10th and May 11th, 2021.
The sitting of the Central Criminal Court in the city heard that not only did Ms Lee have acid thrown in her face three times she also suffered the ordeal of having a plastic bin liner placed over her head by 39-year-old Stokes. He then tightened it around her neck until she lost consciousness.
Mr Justice McGrath said the suffering endured by Ms Lee in the “unsustained unprovoked attack” was “considerable.” In sentencing Stokes he said that the horrendous ordeal had made Simone Lee “scared to move on in her personal life.”
He also noted that on type of the physical and psychological scars Ms Lee sustained she had been effectively left “living out of a bag” following the incident as Stokes had set fire to her home.
The sentencing Judge said that a home is a place of “sanctuary” where the victim in the case was entitled to feel safe.
Following the sentencing hearing in which Ms Lee had delivered a strong and heartfelt victim impact statement Simone Lee told reporters that she was glad to see the “animal” that is Christopher Stokes behind bars.
The sentencing hearing had heard that after the sustained assault the head of the victim resembled a football as her injuries had made her unrecognisable.
Ms Lee said that she was blessed to have survived the assault and was pleased with the message the sentence sent out to persons who engage in crimes of this type.
“It is a strong, big sentence and I am so happy because at least the night person who tries to do it might think about it and stop. I think the sentence was appropriate. He had a choice to stop at any stage and didn’t until he thought I was dead.”
Simone said that she was delighted to “have her voice back” following the ordeal imposed on her.
For long enough I just felt I was a victim and I am not a victim. I am a survivor.
“For long enough I just felt I was a victim and I am not a victim. I am a survivor. A lot of people looked at me like I was a ghost and I couldn’t cope with that and now I am here. “
She urged persons who endure abuse and coercive control to come forward whilst thanking gardaí for all their support. She hopes to help other people who find themselves in situations similar to her own.
“Please come forward. Reach out tell a family member. Tell somebody. When I had to go up to Dublin (for the Stokes bail hearing) (I would love) to have someone who went through something like this to talk to. I am hoping I can do something like that.
I will never forget what he (Stokes) did to me. I felt this (case) was a chain around my neck and now it is cut. I am free. I can live my life. I thought I was dead (that night).
He (Stokes) said that nobody would miss me and that nobody would look for me. He was going to bury me in Charleville. I remember everything.”
Simone said that she was looking forward to rebuilding her life.
“I want to do courses to help people who have gone through something like me. I have lived through it. I also want to work with people with addiction. I have choices today. That is fantastic. I have a life. I don’t know how I am not dead. I woke up underneath a load of furniture (with the house on fire). I don’t know how I got out. I ran for my life.
Also (gardaí) were very good to me. He (Stokes) is an animal. I want to thank ambulance fire brigade and everyone who helped me.”
Meanwhile, the court previously heard that Ms Lee had been left with “lifelong scars, both physical and mental” following the incident.
Sean Gillane, SC for the State, gave an outline of the facts of the case. 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 the father of three 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.
Mr Fehin arrived at Fairview Crescent at about 8.30pm on May 10th, 2021. Initially the atmosphere was calm 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, when 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 him 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 Charleville 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.
Det Garda Harkin said when gardai arrived “She (Simone) was covered in boxes and debris. She (Simone) realised her house was on fire.”
A neighbour told gardai 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. Det Garda Harkin 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.
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.
Mr 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 when 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.”
Ms Lee 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.”
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.
Stokes has been in custody since May 2021. His sentence has been backdated to when he first entered custody.
Mr Justice McGrath said that Mr Fehin had also suffered considerable at the hands of Christopher Stokes and that the case involved two victims of a serious crime.