Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 15:12 UK

'It was my mission to get justice'

Mario Celaire has been sentenced to life in prison for the manslaughter of 19-year-old Cassandra McDermott in 2001. He was originally found not guilty but eventually admitted the killing after new evidence came to light.

Cassandra's mother Jennifer made a statement to the court about the impact her daughter's murder had on her family. Here is an edited excerpt:

On 19 October 2001, I left the UK for a short break in Jamaica. Cassandra was living at home with me at the time and was comfortable with my brief absence.


On 26 October, I was still in Jamaica. At approximately 6pm our entire lives changed forever. I received a telephone call from my brother informing me that Cassandra was dead.

Cassandra McDermott
Celaire physically abused Cassandra McDermott during their relationship

Can anyone imagine the despair of what it feels like being thousands of miles away and having such news?

I needed to know how she had died, when, why, but the phones kept cutting out and although I was phoning home there was no reply as my home was now a crime scene.

I returned home on 28 October, I was riddled with guilt. I had only left her for a week and when she needed me most I was not there to protect her.

On 30 October I had to travel to the morgue where she was laid out for my viewing. I knew that Cassandra had been attacked because I could see the visible bruising to her face. The injuries to me were horrific.

'Humiliated in court'

From that moment I knew that Cassandra's killer had to be caught and brought to justice, whoever the person was. It was to become my mission.

There was nothing I could do to bring Cassandra back, but I could put my energy to help bringing her killer to justice.

In 2002, Mario Celaire, Cassandra's ex-boyfriend, was brought to trial. I attended every day and what happened was that Cassandra was put on trial.

The outcome of the trial in 2002 made my family feel humiliated and stupefied
Jennifer McDermott

Her entire personality was analysed and it seemed that it wasn't enough that she was dead but her character was completely assassinated in the process by the barristers representing Celaire, acting on his instructions.

Witnesses, both friends and family, were also humiliated in court, made out to be shady individuals when they were not so. This gave Mario the benefit, so that for the purposes of the jury he appeared to be of good character. I knew, and my family knew, the truth - that Cassandra's friends were not the people they were portrayed to be.

We had to stay silent, we had to stay silent for another six years before the truth started to come out.

The outcome of the trial in 2002 made myself and my family feel humiliated and stupefied.

'No remorse'

During the last eight years my family and friends have worked hard to have justice, or at least some vindication for Cassandra so that her death was not in vain.

As part of this effort we created a charity in her memory to provide help for young people so that they could become more aware about non-violent adolescent relationships. We felt the need to establish something positive resulting from the immense loss, hurt and humiliation that we were left with.

I was not aware of the full details of the attack that Mario Celaire had inflicted on another girlfriend, Kara Hoyte. The news brought back the rawness that was felt when Cassandra died - it was tragic that another young girl had had to suffer so that action could be taken against Mario.

I cannot accept that Cassandra's death was not a calculated and pre-meditated attack
Jennifer McDermott

To date there has been no remorse shown from Mario Celaire, no acceptance of the terrible assault that he inflicted on Cassandra.

I remember vividly seeing him near Tooting Market and him telling me that he knew who did it and that he would call me. He lied throughout, through the original court case and through the new investigations that have taken place. He has wasted an enormous amount of money from the public purse through legal representation.

I still have unanswered questions. Was Mario planning an attack on Cassandra? Was it pre-meditated?

As a family we have suffered years of torment and mental cruelty. In my eyes Mario Celaire is as dangerous today as he ever was.

History of violence

I feel that Mario selects and grooms young girls as he did with Cassandra and at the end they have to pay with their lives. Only now can the truth come out of the viscous assaults that he inflicted on Cassandra, of his history of violence to her during their relationship.

This is further borne out by the attack on Kara Hoyte where he left her to die. I cannot accept that Cassandra's death was that of manslaughter and that it was not a calculated and pre-meditated attack.

My heart goes out to Kara for her bravery and determination. I am only now aware of the difficulties that she has experienced in getting her story across to the police and the numerous times that her account was probed and tested.

She has shown immense courage to see this process through, telling her story, but also the confession that Mario made to her of killing Cassandra. It was Kara's determination for justice that made it possible for Cassandra's case to be re-opened.

After all that is said words cannot express how much I still miss Cassandra. Only recently have I stopped looking out for her from my bedroom window.




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