‘vicious and cruel’ | 

Man who told woman he would bury her on farm and splashed acid in her face jailed

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

Christopher Stokes (39)

Ralph RiegelIndependent.ie

A man who subjected a female friend to a prolonged attack in which she was beaten, kicked, struck with a bottle, scalded with boiling water and splashed in the face with acid has been jailed for 11 and a half years.

Christopher Stokes (39) was told by Mr Justice Michael McGrath at the Central Criminal Court that his unprovoked attack on Simone Lee (43) had inflicted considerable harm on her.

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

“The culpability in this case is high. This attack was vicious, cruel and prolonged,” he said.

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."

The judge noted that the attack was committed against a vulnerable person.

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.

He 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.

Judge McGrath told Ms Lee, after she had fought back tears to deliver a harrowing victim-impact statement about her ordeal, that she was “a very courageous woman”.

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

Ms Lee told the court that she was “a strong woman… I am a survivor and I am not a victim. For all the fear this man caused me, I am proud I am here today to tell my story”.

But she admitted her ordeal left her physically and mentally scarred.

“I was left blind for three days – I was terrified I would be blind,” she 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 was two months and four days in the burns unit in Cork.”

Ms Lee said that when she now looks at photos of herself after the assault, she cannot believe how bad she looked.

“I was terrified [during the assault]. As a result of the arson, I lost a home which I had lived in happily for four years. I lost all my possessions. When I got out of the hospital I was living out of a black bag. I miss my flat.

"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."

Details of the horrific and prolonged assault were outlined to the Central Criminal Court sitting in Cork after Stokes pleaded guilty to a total of three charges.

Stokes, of Sarsfield Avenue, Garryowen, Limerick, had 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 Ms Lee at Fairview Crescent.

That charge was brought contrary to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act.

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

He also pleaded guilty to damaging a property by fire, namely a premises at Fairview Crescent in Limerick.

Stokes further pleaded guilty to threatening to kill another individual, Timothy Fehin, leaving him with the belief that the threat to kill or cause serious harm would be carried out.

Detective Garda Aled Harkin outlined the circumstances of the assault to Sean Gillane SC, for the State.

He said that Ms Lee was living in a Limerick city property operated by the Fr Peter McVerry Trust.

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

Stokes regularly visited Ms Lee at her home in 2021.

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.

I was never so frightened in all my life

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.

Ms Lee was punched, knocked to the ground and then kicked.

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 completely 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 alert 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.

When Ms Lee awoke to detect the smoke, she was lying on a sofa covered in cardboard boxes and debris.

“Her head was like a football,” a garda said.

Gardaí attended the scene and arrested Stokes.

In a number of interviews, Stokes denied having assaulted Ms Lee.

He told gardaí that the room was on fire and he tried to help. He said that he effectively saved her.

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.

He said Stokes is a father of three young children and was left very upset by the breakdown of his relationship with his partner.

On Stokes's behalf, he issued a full and unreserved apology to the two victims for what happened in May 2021.

Mr McInerney said his client's plea to three charges including assault causing serious harm was of assistance to both the State and the victims.

While Stokes has 13 previous convictions, none were for violent offences and mostly involved traffic and drug issues.

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