The woman who had acid thrown in her face, boiling water poured on her back and was left lying seriously injured in her home which was then set on fire, said today: “I’m a survivor, not a victim.”
39-year-old Christopher Stokes of Sarsfield Avenue, Garryowen, Limerick, first claimed to gardaí that he was the one who tried to help 43-year-old Simone Lee and had actually saved her life. But he confessed this week to charges including causing serious harm to her and setting fire to her home.
Detective Garda Aled Harkin was asked by prosecution senior counsel Seán Gillane about the background to the case where Stokes initially faced trial for attempted murder.
Simone Lee was living in the McVerry Trust house at Fairview Crescent, Garryowen, in Limerick, where the attack was carried out.
She knew Christopher Stokes and although visitors were not allowed in the supported accommodation, he stayed at her home on the night of May 9 2021.
In the course of the following day he became increasingly agitated about money and maintenance that he needed for his ex-partner and their three children.
He told Ms Lee to ring someone known to both of them, Timothy Fehin, 73, and to tell him to drive to her home from his property outside Charleville, County Cork.
Mr Fehin arrived at 8.30pm and agreed to drive to Lidl in Charleville for Stokes and Ms Lee to buy alcohol and return to the house in Garryowen.
In the journey to and from Charleville, Stokes became more aggressive, sitting in the back of the car and punching Ms Lee in the head numerous times. At one stage he struck her in the head with a glass bottle which caused her to bleed. She was upset and crying.
Back at the house the defendant’s violence intensified. He put a fridge freezer against an internal door to stop anyone from leaving. He struck Ms Lee repeatedly. She fell to the floor striking her head against a TV stand.
Mr Fehin tried to stop the assault on Ms Lee but the 39-year-old defendant, who is a very big build, threatened: “You are going to get it too. I am going to kill the two of you.”
He said he would bury both of them on Mr Fehin’s land.
Referring to another serious assault a number of years ago by another man on Ms Lee, Stokes said:
Mr Gillane SC said Stokes then attacked her further: “He put a plastic bin-liner over her and tightened it around her neck. She lost consciousness.”
He told Mr Fehin:“You are going to get it too.”
He told him he would be driving back to Charleville and burying Ms Lee on Mr Fehin’s land.
Det Garda Harkin said: “Mr Fehin managed to move the fridge-freezer from the door and escape from the premises. Ms Lee was lying on the couch. The assaults continued. Amonia acid was thrown on her face three times. He boiled water in the kettle and poured it over her back… the pain from boiling water being poured over her was excruciating.”
Mr Fehin made a call to gardaí that “something was happening in the house” at 2.45am but gardaí who arrived at 3am remained outside as they had no indication of the seriousness of the situation.
Mr Gillane said: “She lost consciousness with the pouring of the boiling water and further blows. Her next memory was when she woke up covered with cardboard boxes and surrounded by debris. She realised her home was on fire. She ran from the premises.”
A neighbour came to her assistance and the emergency services, including gardaí, ambulance and fire brigade, all arrived at the scene at 4.30am. Christopher Stokes was still in the property and he was arrested. When questioned, he said: “I saw the room on fire and I tried to help. I actually saved her.”
Defence senior counsel Brian McInerney, said on behalf of Stokes: “He has instructed me to apologise unreservedly for what was visited on them on the night by him. He wishes he could turn back the clock. He hopes the pleas of guilty will go some distance for Ms Lee and Mr Fehin. He is acknowledging his guilt, acknowledging his responsibility.
Mr Justice Michael McGrath will impose sentence on Christopher Stokes on March 2 at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork for causing serious harm to Simone Lee on May 11 2021 at the house in Garryowen, arson and threatening to kill or cause serious harm to Timothy Fehin.