Wednesday 17 December 2014

This mammoth trial came to a strangely abrupt end

Sarah Stack

Published 01/08/2014 | 02:30

Judge Martin Nolan told the pair to “enjoy your community service” as he handed down the longest sentence he could impose
Judge Martin Nolan told the pair to “enjoy your community service” as he handed down the longest sentence he could impose

"Gentlemen, enjoy your community service," Judge Martin Nolan (inset) said with a smile as Pat Whelan and William McAteer left his court room for the last time.

Their sentence of 240 hours community service each was the culmination of a complex garda probe, and a 47-day trial earlier this year.

The punishment was instead of the two-year prison sentence they each would have got if probation officers felt they were not suited to unpaid work for the good of the community, the packed courtroom heard.

That was the first time the former bank directors had any idea what they may have faced if the trial judge had not decided it would be unjust to send them to prison as a state agency, in this case the Financial Regulator, had led them into error and illegality.

Standing side by side in smart business suits the ex-bankers smiled, nodded back and hurried away.

"Thank you," added Mr Whelan, the relief etched clearly on both their faces.

The men huddled outside courtroom 13 with their legal teams for a few more moments before leaving the Criminal Courts of Justice without making any comment. Less than 15 minutes earlier they had sat at the back of the busy courtroom, filled with defendants whose cases were listed for sentencing on what was the last day of the legal term.

As they were called forward, their tanned relaxed demeanour was a far cry from the strain so visible when their trial started in Dublin's Circuit Criminal Court last February.

It was hard to believe that, in a matter of minutes, one of the largest criminal trials in the history of the State was over, it would have been easy to miss it.

They, and their co-accused former chairman Sean FitzPatrick, had faced 16 charges of illegally lending to Anglo's top 10 clients and six members of Sean Quinn's family in a bid to unwind a secret 29pc stake the tycoon had built up in the bank.

As the days and weeks went on, the pressure mounted on the co-defendants and their legal team. It was mid-April when Mr FitzPatrick was first cleared of all 16 charges.

The next day his former right hand men were convicted of 10 counts – each charge carrying a five year jail term and/or a €3,000 fine – but cleared of the final six.

It wasn't until a later sentencing hearing when the atmosphere began to relax. Judge Martin made it clear they would be spared jail as the State knew all about the blatant breach of legislation, and had not stopped them.

Probation reports found the men were suitable for community service, the judge was told before he imposed the maximum 240 hours.

Instead of facing the inside of a prison cell for the next two years, the two white collared criminals will spend the next 12 months doing their bit for the community.

Whether that's clearing up graffiti, helping the homeless or elderly, or putting their business skills to use for the good of those in need, that will be for their probation officers to decide.

Irish Independent

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