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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -2°C
Leah Farrell via Marty, Garda Horkan's father, outside the Criminal Courts of Justice.
Central Criminal Court

Garda Horkan 'had so much more living to do', family says as Silver given life sentence

Silver (46) was found guilty of capital murder by a jury at the Central Criminal Court last month.

LAST UPDATE | Apr 19th 2023, 4:39 PM

THE FAMILY OF Detective Garda Colm Horkan, who was shot eleven times with his own service gun, have said he “had so much more living to do” and “was robbed of so much”.

Stephen Silver was today handed a life sentence with a minimum of 40 years in prison for the capital murder of Garda Horkan in June 2020.

Silver, who shot Garda Horkan 11 times was found guilty by a jury at the Central Criminal Court last month.

Garda Horkan’s sister Deirdre told her brother’s murderer that there is “no forgiveness” for what he did and she wants him to remember that every evening “as the cell door locks behind you”.

The victim’s family and friends packed the courtroom at the Criminal Courts of Justice building to hear the sentence passed down.

In statements read out to the court, they described him as a loving and thoughtful man who was “the one we always went to for advice”.

His sister Deirdre Horkan said: “If I knew this was going to happen I would never have loved him as much as I did. It’s been so difficult living without him, the best part of me died that night on that street with him.”

Outside court, following the sentencing hearing, Garda Horkan’s father Marty said: “It is great to be able to move forward now, it has been a tough few years. It’s great to have it over and to have justice for Colm. That’s what he deserved because he was a wonderful son.”

He said the loss is immeasurable to the community and the local GAA club.

“He worked everywhere for anybody that he could help at all times… I miss him terribly”, he said.

unnamed (1) Leah Farrell Members of Garda Horkan's family outside the Criminal Courts of Justice. Leah Farrell

 Mr Horkan said the sentence handed to Silver was “justice for what he done”.

“I hope he has to serve every day of it.”

The trial heard that Garda Horkan was a well-regarded member of the force with 25 years’ service and no disciplinary issues on his record.

In court, Ms Justice Tara Burns offered her condolences to the Horkan family who she said were visibly traumatised by the tragic circumstances that led to the death of the “heart and soul” of their family.

She also called on people suffering from mental health problems to recognise the importance of continuing their medical treatment in light of the evidence that Silver had stopped taking medication prescribed for his bipolar affective disorder when he shot Garda Horkan.

Ms Justice Burns said things “would have been very different” if he had maintained his treatment regime.

Passing sentence, the judge said that she has no discretion given that the jury had returned a verdict that Silver is guilty of murdering a member of An Garda Siochana acting in the course of his duty.

She sentenced him to life imprisonment and in accordance with the Criminal Justice Act 1990, she specified that he must serve a minimum of 40 years in prison.

With ordinary remission for good behaviour, Silver will be eligible to apply for parole after he has served 30 years. Having gone into custody in June 2020, he will be aged 74 when he can first be considered for release by a parole board.

Before the sentence was passed, prosecution counsel James Dwyer read out statements that had been written by Garda Horkan’s father, brother Dermot, sister Deirdre and cousin Bosco Horkan.

Deirdre wrote that Colm was the eldest of seven siblings and “put a roof over our heads; he was like a second father”. She said he “never imposed himself on us but he was the one we always went to for advice”.

“I threw every problem to him like they were his to solve, and he did.”

She said she “tortured him at times” but she adored him and he knew it.

She acted as his “personal shopper and maid” and he was “always there for me. No matter what I did for him, he was always thankful.”

She remembered him as always immaculately turned out and on the day he died he was no different in his perfectly ironed black pants and dress shirt.

In the year before his death, Deirdre said they “did loads together”; they went to the Galway races and to live concerts, and when COVID hit they shared “a great few months” together.

During lockdown she said she would awake at 6am to talk to her brother while he ate breakfast because she would have nobody to talk to for the rest of the day.

In the evenings, she would “sit and talk to him as he ate dinner”.

“Little did I know how precious these moments were.”

Garda Horkan loved his friends as much as his family and had a “great social life”, she said, going skiing and attending Mayo football matches, playing golf or going to the cinema.

“Anything involving some crack, he was there,” she said.

The younger generation of the family are left with only memories of the man who used to share a cake with them for every birthday or who would kick a football with them on the lawn.

“He loved Christmas and made it magical for the kids,” she said.

Detective Garda Colm Horkan Garda Press Office Detective Garda Colm Horkan. Garda Press Office

The official garda funeral, she said, robbed Garda Horkan of the send-off he deserved and the family felt forgotten.

Garda Horkan’s friends watched the proceedings on a big screen at a GAA pitch while others, including a close cousin, watched from different countries without family to share the moment.

“The sadness of the family, in all corners of the globe, felt profound when we laid him to rest and they were not with us,” Deirdre said.

She said that her brother had been murdered doing the job he loved.

Marty Horkan said that he was “shocked and numbed” when he awoke to the news that his son had been shot dead in Castlerea. Hours earlier he had said goodbye to Colm after watching a horse race together.

He described Colm as a good son who was honest, reliable and “always there for me”.

He said he was left traumatised and hearing the “brutal and graphic details” of how his son died had retraumatised him.

He said he is a proud father and particularly proud of the stories told by others of how his son had helped them in a “quiet and unassuming way”.

His death was a huge loss for the family, Marty said, but “also for those people he could have helped if he had lived”.

The deceased’s brother Dermot recalled going to see his brother’s body and holding his hand. “I knew he was gone at that stage, I was lucky and unlucky to be there,” he said.

He said the death has been “an awful loss to us all” and remembered his brother as someone who would give the best advice and guidance.

“Even growing up, he would look out for you and mind you.”

Bosco Horkan said Garda Horkan was his cousin and lifelong friend.

“I had looked forward to spending a lot more of my later years with him. We spent many good and bad days in Croke Park watching Mayo and he was never one to hold back his feelings on the game.”

He said that the community had lost an “incredible, caring and selfless human being” and added: “It still makes me so sad and angry at the futility of his murder. His loss is immeasurable.”

Maurice Coffey SC, for Silver, read out a letter of apology from his client. Silver wrote that “words cannot convey how sorry I am for what happened”.

He said there is not a day goes by that he does not think of it and regret it and said he knows what it feels like to grieve, having lost a stepson some years ago.

He added: “I never meant for anyone to get hurt, I was mentally unwell at the time and not in control of my actions.”

He said that his actions had caused Garda Horkan’s death, adding: “For that I am sincerely sorry.”

Ms Justice Tara Burns addressed the Horkan family and said she had noted their presence throughout the trial.

She said their pain and suffering was “obvious” and said it is “not often I see a family as traumatised”.

She added: “I can say that from sitting up here for many tragic cases before me, from the off in this case it was clear that the Horkan family have very deeply scarred themselves arising from the extremely tragic circumstances of the night in question.”

She offered her condolences and said she hopes that the end of the trial process can “bring some form of ending” for the family and that while the family will never get over what happened, she hoped they would learn how to live with it.

“He clearly was the heart and soul of the family,” she said.

She added: “In relation to the members of an Garda Síochána, I was struck by the professionalism that all of you who were involved in this investigation showed.

“I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for members who came on the scene on a contemporaneous basis as events unfolded… It’s a credit to an Garda Síochána that the people who came into that scene and dealt with Mr Silver in the course of that night showed such professionalism.

“It might have been reasonably expected that people might have lost their cool that night and nobody did.”

She said the members had gone “above and beyond” and that they were a “credit to the training” that gardai receive. She particularly noted the roles played by the first two gardaí on the scene, Garda Helen Gillen and Garda Aidan Fallon.

It was Garda Gillen who, despite the pleas of her colleague to maintain a distance, confronted and handcuffed Silver while unarmed.

The Gardaí who interviewed Silver, the judge said, had shown themselves to be “complete professionals”.

She added: “The jury and myself witnessed behaviour that was quite shocking. Things were said in the course of that interview that, I really don’t know how it wasn’t stopped and the guards didn’t need to take time to calm themselves.

“Terrible things were said, terrible behaviour displayed… It says an awful lot for the guards who dealt with him [Stephen Silver] that night and in the following days that they managed to conduct themselves with such professionalism.”

She said it was an obviously tragic case and she wanted to emphasise the importance for people who have mental health difficulties of maintaining the treatment regime ordered by their doctors.

Silver, she said, was involved with mental health services for a significant period of time and received top class treatment for his bipolar disorder.

He received advice, she said, that he did not take and “that’s something he has to live with for the rest of his life”.

She said that Silver is now facing a “significant period of time in prison” and she “can’t imagine but that things would have been different if he had maintained the treatment regime”.

The judge noted that Silver’s mother and wife were in court and that he had enjoyed the full support of a caring family who “looked out for him and watched and kept an eye on him in terms of his mental health, but if a person doesn’t maintain the regime, there is not much a family can do”.

She said she can’t help but feel sorry for all involved but “we are where we are and Stephen Silver murdered Garda Horkan who was acting in the course of his duties.”

She also said that she has no discretion and, turning to Silver as he stood up.

“The law requires me to pass a life sentence on count one and in doing so it is necessary that I specify the minimum period to be served by you of not less than 40 years.”

The sentence is backdated to June 19 when Silver first went into custody.