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Sunday 4 June 2023 Dublin: 8°C
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# Court
Alan Ward sentenced to life imprisonment for murder of Catherine Doyle
Alan Ward stabbed his wife Catherine Doyle to death at their Dublin home in 2019.

A JUDGE HAS passed a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for murder today for Alan Ward, who stabbed his wife Catherine Doyle to death.

Justice Tony Hunt described the killing as “terribly sad and tragic” and said the violence used by Ward was “quite extreme”.

He described Ms Doyle’s sons as “young men of extraordinary courage and dignity”. 

Alan Ward stabbed his wife Catherine Doyle to death at their Dublin home in 2019.

Passing the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment today, Justice Hunt told people who rise to anger to “step back rather than engage in the kind of behaviour seen in this case”.

Detective Sergeant Sean Cosgrove, speaking outside court, urged people in abusive or violent relationships to seek help from gardaí, the courts or other agencies.

He said gardaí are now piloting the use of domestic abuse coordinators in West Dublin where Ms Doyle was murdered.

Ward (54) denied murdering his 41-year-old wife at their home in Greenfort Drive, Clondalkin, Dublin 22 on 1 March 2019.

His lawyers argued that his responsibility was diminished due to a mental disorder brought on by a stroke he suffered two years earlier.

Following a trial last December, a jury rejected the defence arguments having heard that Ward was violent towards his wife for many years prior to the stroke.

The jury also convicted Ward of threatening to kill or cause serious harm to his son Adam Ward and of attempting to stab Adam on the same date.

Justice Hunt sentenced Ward to five years and three years respectively for those offences, with each sentence to run concurrently with the life sentence.

The court heard a statement on behalf of Ms Doyle’s family in which she was described as a “kind-hearted, lovely mum, who understood and cared for her sons.”

Outside court the family also thanked gardai and their community for supporting them, saying: “It is a great feeling knowing our mother was loved by so many people.”

Giollaiosa Olideadha SC, for Ward, read to the court a letter from his client in which Ward said he was “full of shame” for what he had done and added: “I find it hard to look at my sons because of the shame.”

The court also heard that Ward had two previous convictions for road traffic matters and one for an offence under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act.

Evidence in trial

During the trial, Adam Ward, a son of the accused and deceased, told the jury that he emerged from his room after hearing a bang and saw his father in the doorway of his parents’ bedroom striking downwards.

When Adam asked what he was doing, his father told him, “get the fuck away from me or I’m going to kill you,” swiped at him with the blade and lunged towards him.

Adam stepped backwards, out of the way of the knife, and ran downstairs.

When he saw his father following, he quickly unlocked the front door and ran across the street to where he saw a small group of people. He told them what had happened and one of them called gardaí. 

The trial heard that Ward was convicted in 2000 of assaulting his wife causing her harm and gardaí were called to their home to respond to domestic disputes five times over the years.

When he lived in Tallaght, Ward fought with a neighbour and stabbed him in the neck with a Samurai sword.

Gardaí were called to that incident but Ward’s neighbour decided not to make a complaint, the trial heard.

Soon afterwards, the Ward family was forced to leave Tallaght after their windows were smashed and acid was poured on their car.

Adam Ward told the jury that he stopped speaking to his father after the incident with the Samurai sword.

His parents, he said, often argued and there were always “problems and fights” between them.

When the arguments became physical it was usually “pushing and dragging,” he said, but “there were times Alan would punch my mother”.

His father had stopped working some years earlier, he said, adding: “It got to my ma. She wanted to give us the best and it was hard with no money and that started a lot of the arguments.”

Adam said he also felt that his father would antagonize his mother and when she tried to get away he would follow her.

“He would push her until she left and then he wouldn’t leave her alone,” he said.

When she wanted to go out with friends he wouldn’t let her, the witness said, and when she went to the shops he would go with her. He said: “I don’t know what it was, he didn’t trust her or whatever.”

He said both his parents drank and described his mother as a “happy drunk” who would want to dance and have a laugh. His father, he said, was “sloppy” when he drank and would “get sick, fall over, just go too far.”

He remembered his mother leaving the family home 15 to 20 times following arguments over the years but she would always come back. By March 2019 his father was sleeping in the sitting room and his mother slept in an upstairs bedroom.

In 2017, he said his father had a stroke which affected his speech and required him to attend classes to learn how to talk.

He said his father’s personality didn’t change following the stroke; the only difference Adam noticed was the difficulty his father had with his speech.

Cross examination

Under cross examination the witness told Giollaiosa O’Lideadha SC, for the defence, that his parents were not heavy drinkers but would drink a 700ml bottle of vodka between them over two nights while watching television together.

He further agreed that, in his statement to gardaí, he said that after the incident with the Samurai sword he thought his father “could do it again but just never thought he would do it to my ma”.

Adam disagreed with a suggestion that his father’s actions towards him on the night were just a reflection of anger or rage.

He said: “There was always tension between us so I think it was intentional. I don’t think it was just rage.”

He said he was not friendly with his father since the incident with the sword and didn’t speak to him. He agreed that his mother had on occasion hit his father but said that happened “very rarely”.

He further agreed that his mother was “pissed off” about his father not working.

When O’Lideadha put it to him that he couldn’t say what started the argument on the night of his mother’s death, he replied: “I know how my mam is and I know how he would speak to her. The conversations they would have, where he would be insulting her and putting her down.”

He said his mother wasn’t allowed to do the things she wanted. “I think she just felt trapped,” he said.

Psychiatrist witnesses

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Paul O’Connell was called by the defence.

He said the effects of the stroke combined with excessive alcohol consumption and possible post traumatic stress disorder due to childhood trauma, may have contributed to Ward’s violent actions.

He said that the effect of excessive alcohol on Ward would have been magnified by his brain injury.

Dr O’Connell said it was up to the jury to decide if Ward should be found to have diminished responsibility due to his mental disorder and therefore the psychiatrist said he would not offer his own opinion.

But he added that it is “appropriate for the jury to consider the extent to which his responsibility may have been substantially impaired at the time.”

Under cross-examination Dr O’Connell told Bernard Condon SC, for the prosecution, that if alcohol had not been involved it is unlikely that the killing would have happened but if the disorder were not present, it is also unlikely it would have happened. “Both are factors with a substantial role to play,” he said.

The psychiatrist agreed that alcohol had been a problem for Mr Ward’s entire life and that he had been violent towards his wife and others before he had a stroke.

Psychiatrist Dr Damien Smith was called by the prosecution to rebut Dr O’Connell’s evidence.

He told Condon he was not satisfied that the brain injury explained Ward’s actions in killing his wife and was also not satisfied that the brain injury was sufficient to diminish his responsibility.

He said Ward’s intoxication is a better explanation for his behaviour.

Closing speeches

In his closing speech to the jury, Condon said that the attack was not “out of the blue or out of character” as the accused had a “long history of animosity” towards his wife.

He said the jury had to ask themselves if they regarded the accused as “an honest narrator of events” and suggested there were numerous examples to suggest he was not. Ward had, for instance, falsely claimed he had never been aggressive before suffering his stroke, Condon said.

“He also makes claims that his wife was beating him up and breaking windows but couldn’t explain his lack of corroboration for this version of events,” he continued.

Dr Smith, noted Condon, told the court the accused had been “vague when discussing his alcohol habits” during interviews carried out after the offences.

Defence counsel Giollaíosa Ó Lideadha said the jury’s primary task was to “decide the case on the basis of the evidence and in accordance with the law”.

“Do you have sufficient material before you in order to find for the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt?” he asked.

Ó Lideadha also asked the jury to consider how they would feel if they were to be told that from tomorrow their lives would be altered significantly as a result of brain damage.

The brain damage, he said, would reduce their capacity to speak and cause them to suffer from depression.

“Will you turn around and say depression doesn’t matter?” he asked.

Ó Lideadha also said that because of the brain injury from the stroke, Ward was “particularly susceptible to the effects of alcohol”.

“There is no dispute about that,” he added.

Counsel then reminded the jury that his client had asked about his wife’s welfare after he was arrested.

“How could anyone in their right mind do that stabbing and then ask, ‘is she ok?’ he said.