Wednesday 20 September 2017

Court awards estate owner €7.9m against O'Brien firm

Tim Healy and Allison Bray

Conor O'Brien, a baron and direct descendent of High King Brian Boru, has been awarded close to €8m in damages after a deal to build a luxury resort on his ancestral lands collapsed during the property crash.

The 18th Baron Inchiquin -- whose family date back a thousand years to their defensive stronghold at Dromoland Castle in Co Clare -- was awarded €7.9m in damages against a company controlled by billionaire businessman Denis O'Brien yesterday.

The baron could not be reached for comment last night.

But in a judgment delivered in the High Court, a judge awarded damages to Baron O'Brien, head of the O'Brien clan and owner of Thomond House, Dromoland, against Trinity Property Holdings (TPH) Ltd, which has since gone into liquidation. The proceedings were not defended.

The company, in which Denis O'Brien had a 65pc stake, was sued by the baron after TPH proposed to buy 377 acres out of his sprawling 600-acre estate adjoining the luxurious Dromoland Castle. But the deal never went through.

The land was intended to be developed as a luxury five-star hotel, convention centre, golf course and upmarket housing complex. It was worth about €11m in 2006, but is now valued at less than a third of that at €3.2m, the court heard.

Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan said she was satisfied there was a binding agreement between the two parties for the sale of the land and that the contract was enforceable against TPH.

The court accepted that the baron wanted to go ahead with the proposed sale and was entitled to damages following TPH's decision to go into liquidation.

The judge accepted a valuer's evidence as to the 2006 valuation (€11m) of the land, less the €100,000 deposit paid by TPH.

Damages

She awarded €7.9m -- the difference between the land's value in 2006 and its current value. The award also included special damages of more than €240,000 for loss of income and for costs -- including the restoration of the lands.

TPH, the court previously heard, was insolvent after its directors passed a resolution to have the company wound up. A creditors' meeting is due to take place on April 20.

The case arose from option agreements allegedly made on November 22, 2006 that TPH would buy lands at Dromoland estate for €9.59m by February 28, 2007. Subject to that option being exercised, a second option to buy other lands for €1.46m was granted.

The first option went ahead on February 28, 2007, followed by the second on November 21, 2007.

But TPH failed to complete the purchase of either property. It then repudiated the option agreements on grounds of non-disclosure of information on December 3, 2008.

The baron previously told the court the agreement stemmed from a meeting with Denis O'Brien on April 7, 2006, and negotiations subsequently took place.

There were a number of problems during the negotiations, but he was satisfied they had been worked out, the court heard.

However, he emailed Mr O'Brien in August 2007 expressing disappointment about ongoing delays. Mr O'Brien had responded assuring there was no unwillingness on his side to complete the deal.

A completion notice was served in August 2008, but it was disputed by TPH's solicitors.

The court heard that Baron O'Brien was "shocked and devastated" when TPH tried to rescind the option agreement in December 2008.

He said the land was cleared of tenants and livestock in anticipation of the sale and it had remained locked up. He no longer received income from leasing lands to farmers or for sporting rights, he added.

He said he has a home in Clare, and a rented property in Dublin, but the banks were "baying at our heels".

Irish Independent

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