Tuesday 20 August 2019

Horror will go on, this and every Christmas


REBECCA FRENCH is lying in the cold clay of Crosstown Cemetery when she should be buying Christmas presents for her children. The 30-year-old mother died a horrific, undignified death. She was savagely beaten before her battered body was tied up and set alight in the boot of her own car, the one she used to take her daughters to school in.

There is little consolation to offer a family when a living nightmare like this visits their door, but at least they deserve to believe that someone will be caught and severely punished for her killing.

Last week, four men were given prison sentences of 10 years with various amounts suspended, for disposing of and attempting to destroy Rebecca's body.

The French family said they were happy with the sentences but they had to adjust their expectations during the trial after the DPP withdrew murder charges against two of the defendants due to a legal technicality.

Now, no-one will ever be convicted of killing the Wexford mother even though there is no doubt in the world that she was murdered in a most savage and barbaric way.

Justice has been dispensed but it can be argued that it has not been done, nor been seen to be done, on her behalf, and that the criminal justice system did not work well in defending her or in re-assuring the public of its powers of retribution.

Mr. Justice Barry White said during the sentencing hearing last Friday that ' the maximum sentence is not half long enough in my view' and ' there should be a maximum sentence of 20 years.

'It seems to me there is little if any room for distinguishing between the four of you. You showed no respect for Rebecca French after she died. You disposed of her body in a manner not befitting an animal,' he added.

'In my view, 10 years is inadequate as a maximum punishment for this type of offence but I am bound by the law,' he added. That is cold comfort for the French family who must live with the horrible images of how Rebecca died through many more Christmasses, anniversaries and birthdays to come.

Mr. Justice White said one or more of the four men were responsible for ' brutally and savagely' killing Rebecca, but enjoyed a presumption of innocence for this.

Ordinary people don't understand the intricacies of the law. Many have been disappointed and perplexed by what happened in the Rebecca French case. They are left with a feeling that legal technicalities work in favour of the defendant and against the young mother who is beaten to death and dumped in a laneway.

They believe that a woman's life should take precedence over all other considerations. But, as the judge said, the State was not able to adduce evidence as to what happened Rebecca French. As a result, no-one will ever be held responsible for her killing.

And when her sister Rachel made highly-critical comments in an emotional victim impact statement read to the court, it resulted in an adjournment with the judge expressing concern that he might be seen to be influenced by the remarks.

It was the first time in the long year following Rebecca's death that they could speak in court about how they felt, but there were consquences they did not expect. They are now keeping their own counsel. Nobody could blame them.

In the echoing silence, meanwhile, many other people are left with the sinking feeling that the law can't always be relied on to deliver justice.

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