Saturday 25 October 2014

'Warring family' in court over alleged forgery of will

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

Published 20/01/2013 | 05:00

A FORMER businessman's "warring family" were exposed as he gave evidence against his brother and lifelong friend alleging that the three of them forged a bachelor's will.

Charlie O'Leary spent two-and-a-half days in the witness box at Wexford Circuit Court while his brother, William O'Leary, and once close friend, Noel Hayes, looked on.

Noel Hayes, 59, of Ramsgrange, New Ross and William O'Leary, 49, of Kilhile, Arthurstown, New Ross, both deny forging the will of Matthew Hayes, 82, on a date unknown between December 25, 1998, and January 8, 1999.

Mr Hayes, from Duncannon, Co Wexford, died on Christmas Day 1998. In what was believed to have been his final will and testament, he left 162 acres of land and money in various accounts to Noel Hayes, his distant relation.

Charlie O'Leary and his brother William were executors of the will, which was purportedly signed in August 1998. It is alleged that all three were involved in forging the will, with Noel Hayes forging the signature of his relative when he was, in fact, dead a week.

Family members sat on opposite sides of the courtroom and observed 54-year-old Charlie O'Leary choking back tears while testifying that he went to hospital to see Matthew Hayes on his deathbed along with Noel Hayes.

Mr O'Leary – who pleaded guilty in 2009 to his part in the alleged forgery – described how this was the first time he had ever seen the elderly farmer.

Under cross-examination, Mr O'Leary was asked if he went to the hospital in "some kind of ghoulish act" to "gawk at the man whose land you were going to steal"?

The trial heard that Noel Hayes had a meeting with brothers Charlie and Willie O'Leary in their office in Ramsgrange, Co Wexford, before Christmas 1998.

Charlie O'Leary said Noel Hayes gave an account of how his "family had been somehow wronged" out of Matt Hayes's farm.

Mr O'Leary said Noel Hayes claimed the farm "should have been his father's", telling the men: "We have to do up a will and get this farm back."

Mr O'Leary agreed "money was mentioned at some stage" during the meeting. "A figure of £15,000 or £17,000 was mentioned," he said.

Mr O'Leary said he received "£12,500" from Noel Hayes in 2001. "I didn't want to profit from what I had done," he said, adding, "it was a bit more than dirty money."

He claimed he gave some to a friend who had a sick child and some to his sister to help her buy a car.

The court heard how Charlie O'Leary and his brother William grew up in a family of 13.

"Is it fair to describe the O'Learys as a warring family?" defence barrister for William O'Leary, Michael O'Higgins, asked.

Charlie O'Leary replied "no", but added: "They're public about their fights... they don't hide behind closed doors."

Details emerged of how Mr O'Leary had been sued by family members, including a niece who claimed she had been assaulted by him in a pub.

Another brother, Robert, was involved in a 17-year legal battle with Charlie O'Leary "over a piece of land", the court heard.

The jury was also told that Willie O'Leary had been sent to an industrial school as a young teenager.

Mr O'Higgins said Willie O'Leary was "totally illiterate" but had built up a successful business, O'Leary International Transport.

Charlie and Willie O'Leary worked in the business together for more than 13 years. "The reason why he endured you was that he couldn't read or write... He needed somebody that he could trust, a family member, to manage that aspect of the business," Mr O'Higgins said.

When Charlie O'Leary left the firm, he received a payment of €3.2m. He was asked if there was a "sour taste" in his mouth after quitting O'Leary Transport.

"There was sadness... a bit of bitterness," Charlie O'Leary replied.

"You got €3.2m... That would cushion the blow for most people," Mr O'Higgins said.

It also emerged that Charlie O'Leary had been a director of Irish South East Vegetables with Noel Hayes and others but problems arose in April 2006, and he left.

Around this time, Charlie O'Leary was treated for depression. He said the will was still playing on his mind and he went to gardai about it.

The court heard how Charlie O'Leary had fallen out with five members of his family over the years. "You're a very bitter man and if you fall out with anyone, you fall out with them for life," Mr O'Higgins said.

In concluding his cross-examination of Charlie O'Leary on Friday, Mr O'Higgins put it to the witness: "You are a liar, you are lying about Willie. You, Charlie O'Leary, are lying about Willie O'Leary to keep up the grudge match which has been in existence for years now. Isn't that it?"

Mr O'Leary replied: "No, your honour".

The trial before Judge Raymond Fullam continues on Tuesday.

Sunday Independent

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