Wednesday 26 April 2017

Revealed: Bankrupt O'Donnells living in plush home in picture postcard 'Garden of England'

Brian O’Donnell opens the front door of his new home on Haxted Road in Edenbridge, Kent Photo: Frank McGrath
Brian O’Donnell opens the front door of his new home on Haxted Road in Edenbridge, Kent Photo: Frank McGrath
Brian and Pat O'Donnell
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

Two years after being forced out of Gorse Hill by Bank of Ireland, former solicitor and billionaire Brian O'Donnell is now living in a large farmhouse in the lush countryside of the 'Garden of England'.

The rented property is in the stockbroker and banker belt on the Kent-Surrey border. Surrounded by plains of fertile land, the house called East Haxted is accessed by an iron gate and a gravel path.

The front of the house Photo: Frank McGrath
The front of the house Photo: Frank McGrath
The town of Edenbridge Photo: Frank McGrath

Many of the houses and shops in the environs are historic Tudor buildings, like something from a picture postcard.

But Brian O'Donnell did not want to talk about his bankruptcy battle and the sale of the famous Gorse Hill mansion when the Irish Independent called by.

A sleek black 4.2litre Jaguar XK8 car does not look out of place parked on the gravel of the East Haxted farmhouse.

On the busy road in front of it, Aston Martins, Porsches and Range Rovers were among the vehicles that glided past on their way to Edenbridge or Royal Tunbridge Wells to the east, or Lingfield and Crawley to the south-west.

Gorse Hill on Vico Road was the subject of a steady stream of court hearings and appeals as the O’Donnell family battled to hold onto their home
Gorse Hill on Vico Road was the subject of a steady stream of court hearings and appeals as the O’Donnell family battled to hold onto their home
Siblings Blake, Alexandra and Blaise O’Donnell

Back in Ireland, their Gorse Hill mansion is now on the market for €8.5m after a complex legal battle between the O'Donnells and the banks that lasted four years.

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In spring 2015, Brian and his wife Mary Patricia refused to leave the house on the exclusive Vico Road overlooking Killiney Bay.

There were some very public showdowns between agents for the bank's receivers and the New Land League, who were acting on the O'Donnells' behalf in preventing the house being seized.

In the end the O'Donnells left. In a dramatic handover Brian O'Donnell went straight from Gorse Hill to the Bank of Ireland AGM and threw the keys on to the table in front of the bank's chief executive Richie Boucher.

It also marked the turning point in the Life of Brian, who once boasted a portfolio of property in London, Scandinavia and the United States, and an estimated wealth of €1bn.

When the Irish Independent called he opened the door of East Haxted before it was even knocked on.

"Hello, can I help you?" he said with curiosity.

"Sorry, I've nothing to say to anybody. I'm terribly sorry, no comment," he added politely before closing the front door.

On a second visit to the house, Brian's son Blake also did not want to talk about Gorse Hill, bankruptcy and where they stand with other properties they owned.

Brian O'Donnell, a solicitor, and his wife Mary Patricia, a psychiatrist, were left with massive bank debts following the global economic crash of 2008. In 2011 Bank of Ireland got a judgment order for €71.5m against the couple.

The O'Donnells were adjudicated bankrupt by the High Court in August of 2013. The finding was then confirmed by the Supreme Court in February 2015. There was an application last year from the Official Assignee to extend his period of bankruptcy, and 'Stubbs Gazette' says O'Donnell hasn't yet been discharged. But he finds himself in exclusive company at his new address in Kent.

Estate agents in nearby Edenbridge that ply the properties of the TN8 postcode fill their windows with photographs of houses on the market, with many of them described as 'chocolate box' properties. In 2006 the UK's 'Independent' newspaper carried out a survey of 1,833 postcodes it called 'The Best Places To Live In Britain'. Edenbridge was 10th on the list.

"TN8 in Kent has benefited from overspill in Sevenoaks. Prime, leafy commuter-belt territory.

"Amenities include a good range of shops, excellent access to the M25 and M23, plus Gatwick and Heathrow airports," the article stated.

Two local estate agents who looked at the East Haxted property the O'Donnells are residing in said it would be worth in the region of £1.1m to £1.2m (€1.27m to €1.4m) on the open market.

"It's a prime property. You can call it banker belt and stockbroker belt and you won't be wrong," said Fraser Clark of Eden Lettings and Sales.

The estimated rent on the property is in the region of £2,500 to £3,000 a month (€2,800-€3,400).

Irish Independent

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