bravery | 

Acid attack survivor Simone Lee speaks out on coercive control, admits ‘I thought I was dead’

Simone Lee (43) was hailed for her incredible bravery, as Christopher Stokes was jailed for 11 years and six months for the vicious assault

Simone Lee outside the Central Criminal Court. Photo: Cork Courts Limited


A woman who was beaten, kicked, scalded with boiling water and then burned with acid by a male friend admitted she thought she was going to die during her terrifying ordeal.

Simone Lee (43) was hailed by a Central Criminal Court judge for her incredible bravery as her attacker, Christopher Stokes (39), was jailed for 11 years and six months for the vicious assault.

Ms Lee admitted that, at one point, she did not think she would survive the lengthy assault in her Limerick home two years ago.

"I thought I was dead. He kept on saying to me that I was dead. That nobody would miss me, nobody would look for me - he would cut me up and bury me in Charleville. None of that went away - I remember everything," she explained outside the court.

Ms Lee paid tribute to the Gardaí who investigated her assault - and to medical and counselling services who helped her recover.

She urged any woman living in fear of attack to tell their family, trusted friends or the Gardaí.

"Oh God, please reach out to a family member. Please come forward. Tell somebody. It (violence) is not OK - it is very wrong.

" I wish I had done that. If I had rang one of my brothers or sisters and said this is what he is doing, they would have said go - get rid of him."

Ms Lee said support from other women who had experienced violent and coercive behaviour was incredibly important.

She said women needed to be conscious of controlling behaviour such as changing passwords on phones and isolating people from their families and close friends.

"I didn't realise it was coercive control at the time. He was trying to isolate me from all my friends. But I got my voice back. I felt I was a victim. I am not - I am a survivor. A lot of people looked at me like I was a ghost and I couldn't cope with that."

Christopher Stokes (39)

Ms Lee said the attacks struck her at a particularly vulnerable time, just weeks after the death of her father.

"I was very, very vulnerable. He preyed on that. Now I keep my circle very, very small - I only really trust my family," she said.

Ms Lee welcomed the prison term handed out as "a strong, big sentence" that will make other violent offenders think twice.

"He had a choice to stop at any stage and he didn't until he thought I was dead."

Mr Justice McGrath warned the attack was both cruel and sinister.

"The culpability in this case is high. This attack was vicious, cruel and prolonged."

Mr Justice McGrath said it was also "sinister" in that Stokes had threatened Ms Lee that he would "finish the job" of a separate and totally unrelated serious assault she had suffered a number of years earlier.

"It is clear to the court that Ms Lee is a brave and courageous woman," he said.

"Ms Lee sustained a vicious, frightening and unprovoked assault."

He imposed a sentence of 12 years but agreed to suspend the final six months.

The judge agreed to backdate the sentence to May 11 2021 when Stokes was first taken into custody.

A concurrent sentence of six years was imposed for the threat to kill.

Stokes told Ms Lee, after placing a plastic bin liner over her head, that he was going to bury her body on a farm on the Cork-Limerick border.

Stokes then placed cardboard boxes around the semi-conscious woman on a couch in her home before starting a fire in the apartment.

Neighbours alerted by the smoke raised the alarm with Gardaí and Limerick Fire Brigade.

Burn specialists and plastic surgeons found that Ms Lee had suffered burns to 10pc of her body. She later required skin grafts.

"I was left blind for three days - I was terrified I would be blind," Ms Lee said.

"My family thought that I was dead. I was unrecognisable - even now I cannot wear certain clothes as I am conscious of my scars."

"As a result of this assault I have been left with lifelong scars both mental and physical. I have scars on my body which I still feel pain in."

"I trust no one now. This is the second time in my life I have been violently assaulted. Christopher Stokes told me he would finish the job after my first assault. Life is now a daily battle."

Stokes of Sarsfield Avenue, Garryowen, Limerick pleaded not guilty on Monday to a charge of the attempted murder of Ms Lee.

The charge involved an address at Fairview Crescent in Limerick on May 11 2021.

The jury of seven women and four men were discharged by Mr Justice McGrath on Tuesday after Stokes was arraigned on three other charges.

Stokes pleaded guilty to assault causing serious harm whereby he intentionally or recklessly caused serious harm to Simone Lee at Fairview Crescent.

He also pleaded guilty to damaging a property by fire.

Stokes further pleaded guilty to threatening to kill another individual, Timothy Fehin, leaving him in fear.

Detective Garda Aled Harkin said Ms Lee lived in a property run by the Fr Peter McVerry Trust.

She was friendly with an elderly farmer, Timothy Fehin, and also knew Christopher Stokes, a separated father of three.

On May 9, Stokes stayed overnight at the property.

The following day, he was increasingly anxious and agitated over personal matters including payments for his former partner and young children.

As the day progressed, Stokes became increasingly anxious and demanded that Mr Fehin come to the property and drive both him and Ms Lee to a supermarket in Charleville, Co Cork.

Stokes repeatedly struck Ms Lee over the course of the day - at one point hitting her with a glass bottle as they drove to Charleville in Mr Fehin's car, leaving her bleeding from a head wound.

Mr Fehin - who is 71 - was terrified and Stokes, according to Det Garda Harkin, at one point warned: "I am going to kill the two of you. I am going to cut her up and bury her on the (farm) land."

After returning to Ms Lee's apartment on the evening of May 10, Stokes used a fridge to block the door and prevent his two terrified victims from fleeing.

He then subjected Ms Lee to a horrific and prolonged assault into the early hours of May 11.

Stokes warned Ms Lee - who had been subjected to an assault by a different individual a number of years previously - that: "(He) was going to finish the job that the other eejit didn't."

"He put a plastic bin liner over her head...and Ms Lee lost consciousness," Det Garda Harkin said.

Stokes then boiled a kettle and poured the boiling water down Ms Lee's back.

He then got ammonia acid and splashed it three times in her face.

Ms Lee later told Gardaí that the pain was "excruciating" - and she feared, after losing her sight for three days, that she would be left blind by the attack.

At one point, Ms Lee pleaded to be allowed go to the toilet - but Stokes warned that she would have to go in her pants.

Mr Fehin managed to move the fridge, flee the apartment and go to the Gardaí.

The elderly farmer said he has been left "haunted" by the attack - and his inability to help Ms Lee on the night.

"I was never so frightened in all my life - he told me he was going to kill me and bury me on my own land. It still terrifies me," Mr Fehin said.

Stokes then started a fire in the apartment - and neighbours were alerted by the smoke and raised the alarm.

One neighbour met Ms Lee - who was also awoken by the smell of smoke in her flat - and was shocked by her appearance in the complex hallway.

"Her head was like a football," the garda said.

Defence counsel, Brian McInerney SC, pointed out his client was initially unable to be interviewed by Gardaí after his arrest because of his level of intoxication.

Stokes unreservedly apologised for his actions.

He has 13 previous convictions, none were for violent offences.

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