Garda killer Stephen Silver “is not the man portrayed,” says his wife
Áine Bell met her future husband Stephen Silver in 2006 at a motorcycle festival in Co Mayo.
He sat next to me at that bike rally and we started talking and then we talked all night,” she recalls.
“Since then, we’ve hardly stopped talking. I love him with all my heart and always will. Stefan is the love of my life. He calls me his bean chéile, his good lady.
“He’s my soulmate, my soulmate. Who is Stephen Silver? He is not the man described in court.”
Four days ago, 46-year-old mechanic Silver was found guilty of the capital murder of Detective Garda Colm Horkan, 49. He was charged with murder last year but the jury couldn’t reach a verdict.
“I really thought it would be understood that Stephen was ill”
Certain facts about what happened that night are accepted. Silver shot Det Gda Horkan 11 times with his own gun on 17 June 2020 while on duty in Castlerea, Co Roscommon. He now faces the mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years in prison.
Silver had pleaded guilty not to murder but to manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility. He has a long psychiatric history.
His first major episode was at age 19 when he was convinced he was Jesus.
“Right now Stephen is stunned, all of us,” says his wife. “I really thought it would be understood that Stephen was ill. He’s in Mountjoy’s infirmary. He gets two six-minute calls every day, so we talk on the phone every day.
“He didn’t go out to kill anyone that night. He had no intention of killing anyone. It’s just not in him.
“I said to him, ‘They will never give you 40 years, they will see that you are sick.’ But they didn’t. He regrets it so much and he feels terrible about what happened.
“If he’s unwell, Stephen isn’t Stephen. The man I know, the man I fell in love with and still love, he is loving, funny and kind – a supportive and compassionate person. Everything that has been said about Colm Horkan in terms of the man he was can also be said about Stephen.”
Ms Bell acknowledges the pain and loss suffered by Det Gda Horkan’s loved ones.
“I really feel for the Horkan family. It’s such a loss for her. All I can say is if Stephen was in his right mind it wouldn’t have happened.”
The mother of two, who is from Co Down but has lived in Foxford, Co Mayo for the past 25 years, has witnessed her husband’s psychotic episodes on a number of occasions.
“I really feel for the Horkan family. It’s such a loss for her’
“We got married three years after we met. I went to the bike rally with friends because I love live music and dancing more than motorbikes, which, along with music, is Stephen’s first love,” she says.
“He told me he was bipolar from the start. Six weeks after we first met at that bike rally, I found out what that meant. I visited him once because it was his birthday but he didn’t look at me or speak to me.
“A week later his mother called to say he was in the hospital and wanted to see me, so I went to see him. He couldn’t believe I was doing it. I fell in love with him. When he’s down, it’s hard to look past it, but he’s not. And his episodes were rare.”
The couple married in August 2009. Seven weeks later, Ms Bell’s 19-year-old son Michael died in a car accident. It had a big impact on her.
“He [Silver] supported me a lot during this time. But it also shaped him. He was Michael’s father figure for three years. They were close. They played guitar together. My other son, Cullin, was three when Stephen came into our lives. So he really is a father to him.”
Ms Bell says 2010 was a difficult year for Silver and he was hospitalized four times for mental health issues.
“It was a particularly stressful time, and stress was a trigger for him,” she says. “But after that he did very well for the next eight years. By 2018 he had no more problems.
“We had a very ordinary life. We were just happy. He’s a quiet person, he’s never been violent towards us, not at all. He was a gorgeous man, loving and caring.”
In 2018, Silver’s mental health deteriorated after he drove to Germany for a motorcycle rally.
His wife says: “When he came home he was paranoid. I knew all the signs. Then he told me he thought I was an MI6 agent – he wouldn’t believe I wasn’t.
“I had to go to work the next day. He destroyed the house when I was out, which was so unlike him – he wasn’t violent. We convinced him that he needed to go to the hospital. We sat in the ER for 12 hours to admit him.”
After each episode where Silver “became himself again,” he apologized. “It wasn’t really about forgiving him — I knew if he wasn’t okay, he wasn’t Stephen.”
His last hospitalization was in September 2019 – nine months before he shot and killed Det Gda Horkan – but he left the hospital after less than two weeks.
Silver “hasn’t been doing very well,” says his wife, and in February 2020 he moved out of the Foxford home they shared.
“We weren’t estranged. He was still here almost every evening. It was temporary for me, but he needed some space.”
After moving out, Silver met an Australian at a concert in Dublin. Unable to work due to Covid, she decided to return home but wanted to spend her final days in Ireland with Silver. They traveled to Dublin on June 15 to stay at a hotel closer to the airport.
Silver said in his testimony in court that he was worried she might try to kill him. He had “fleeting thoughts,” he said, that she was an MI6 agent sent “to get rid of me”.
On June 16, he was on the phone with his sister and only sister, Marian Bruen. She told the trial she knew right away that he was not doing well. After that call, she spoke to her mother and they agreed to take him to the hospital as soon as he got home. But Silver never returned home.
On June 17, after brushing the Australian off, he decided to head back west.
The court heard he had met an old friend in Castlerea. They spoke about a mutual acquaintance, James Coyne, whose house was the target of a Garda raid. The conversation triggered something in Silver, and he decided on the spot to visit Coyne.
He said when he arrived at the house in Knockroe he was angered by the “eyesore” in which his friend lived.
“There’s a chance he’ll never come out”
Later, he and Coyne would take turns riding a Kawasaki race bike that Silver had repaired at the Knockroe estate. This led to several calls from local residents to Gardaí.
In response to the calls, an unmarked Hyundai, driven by Det Gda Horkan, arrived. By this time Silver and Coyne had parked the motorbike and were heading towards Castlerea Town to get some pizza. The officer stopped behind them. Moments later he was dead.
During a scuffle, Silver had somehow managed to get his hands on the detective’s gun.
“Next, I pulled the trigger and nothing happened, so I pulled it again and it fired, a loud pop,” he said. “I pulled my hand away and Colm fired twice. Colm’s hand gradually lost strength and fell off the gun. I then picked up the gun on my own and Colm started falling backwards.
Silver told the trial he held the gun with both hands and fired the remaining bullets at Det Gda Horkan as he lay on the ground. A pathologist described the many injuries he sustained as “catastrophic”.
Silver said he believes Det Gda Horkan’s unmarked Hyundai, with its Dublin number plate, may have followed him out of the capital that day.
“I had a lot of confused thoughts about the situation,” he said. “I was just trying to extricate myself from the situation. I felt like I was in danger but it happened so fast it was very, very, very scary.”
“Colm was the best of us, a gentleman through and through – he deserved that verdict”
The morning after the murder, Mrs Bell drove to work and listened to the news of the tragedy on the radio.
“I wasn’t thinking about Stephen at all when I heard the news,” she says. “Then I got a missed call from Castlerea Garda station. When I saw Stephen’s mother calling me a little later, I just knew.”
Mrs Bell attended both of her husband’s murder trials at Dublin’s Central Criminal Court. Friends of hers and Silver helped her with money to appear in court and she missed a significant amount of work.
She believes her husband will get through the rest of his days in prison.
“He’s stunned by all of this. He jokes that when it comes out he’ll be in his 80’s and we won’t have teeth in our heads anymore. But there’s also a chance he’ll never come out,” she says.
After Silver’s sentencing, Det Gda Horkan’s brother Brendan said the sentencing gave the family a measure of closure.
“Colm was the best of us, a gentleman through and through – he deserved that verdict today,” he said.
Ms Bell says she has great sympathy for the family of the murdered Garda and the tragedy they suffered, but she also feels compelled to speak out about her husband and she has done so with his blessing.
“In many ways, I wish I could have testified at his trial to tell everyone who Stephen really is,” she says. “I love him and always will. He has been dehumanized. Stephen is not the man portrayed.”
Attorney Phelim O’Neill of Harringtons LLP in Dublin represented Silver at both of his murder trials. The 46-year-old is expected to appeal his conviction.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/garda-killer-stephen-silver-is-not-the-man-portrayed-says-his-wife-42393785.html Garda killer Stephen Silver “is not the man portrayed,” says his wife