Paul Kelly billed €80 speeding fine to Console for 'rush to suicide emergency'
Audit reveals three trips to Australia in 16 months, writes Maeve Sheehan
Published 03/07/2016 | 02:30
When Paul Kelly was invited to speak at a conference in Auckland, New Zealand in September 2012, he made the most of it.
He was, after all, the boss of a suicide bereavement charity, Console, and had yet to be found out. No one remembered that he once got the Probation Act in 1983 for pretending to be a doctor, or that he went on to call himself a priest to boost donations to a dubious counselling charity that folded with a reported €100,000 tax debt. Now here he was, being invited to share a podium with leading international thinkers on suicide prevention at a conference on the other side of the world.
According to the draft report by the Health Service Executive's internal auditors, Paul Kelly took along his 20-something son, Tim, and a bunch of Console credit cards for a 17-day trip that also took in Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Kelly told the internal auditors that they stopped off in Singapore to hold meetings with "the Irish community". In Sydney, they met the McKillop Foundation, a charity dealing with social isolation. In Auckland, Tim Kelly busied himself with a workshop on suicide prevention, while his father spoke at the conference.
Paul Kelly provided details of this trip - and others - but "no financial information" according to the draft audit report. The auditors studied credit card statements to shed further light on their activities. There were visits to the Singapore Zoo on September 19 (almost €100); the Singapore Museum the next day (€26); the National Maritime Museum in Sydney on September 23 (€32); and cash withdrawals from Auckland to Woolloomooloo to Sydney to Perth, 4,000km away, where Kelly is said to have relatives. The €590 cost of the hotel in Singapore appeared on Kelly's wife, Patricia's credit card, according to the draft audit, although she was not named as being on the trip.
The €1,400 cost of a stay at the Blue Sydney Taj hotel in Woolloomooloo on October 5 was billed to another Console staff member. In total, €4,458 was racked up on three Console credit cards. Paul Kelly's mobile phone bill for the trip came to €1,101. Console picked up the tab for that too.
Two months later, Kelly left for Perth, Australia again, in December of 2012 and spent the New Year there. Kelly's explanation to the auditors was that he was there to "speak at the Jesuit centre". Exactly a year later, he made his third trip to Australia in 16 months. In December 2013, Kelly and his son, Tim, flew to Sydney to visit the St Joseph's Motherhouse in Sydney to discuss a "growth" programme Console wanted to roll out in Ireland. They visited Perth to meet "suicide prevention facilitators" and stopped off in Dubai to "meet the Irish community" to "discuss their planned fundraiser for Console".
According to the HSE's draft internal audit report, Console spent €71,460 between 2012 and 2014 on foreign travel. But Paul Kelly defended each and every trip, insisting that all were undertaken on Console business and rejected any suggestion that "personal expenditure" might be mixed up in the costs he was racking up to his charity.
Console's foreign travel proved to be just one manifestation of the dysfunction at the top of the charity founded by Paul Kelly in 2002, seven years after the death of his sister from suicide, and run by him ever since.
Since RTE's Prime Time Investigates was broadcast last Thursday week, Kelly's house of cards has come tumbling down. The programme exposed Kelly's "history of deception" and questionable financial controls at his suicide bereavement charity. It has been a week of High Court injunctions to keep the Kellys out of the charity, bank accounts have been frozen and its future State funding is under review.
Those who crossed Paul Kelly's path came out of the woodwork to share with Joe Duffy's Liveline stories of Kelly's shameless deception, carried off with boundless confidence and charm.
He was born in Ballyfermot, Dublin, to a large family, became a novice with St John of Gods order, spent a stint in a seminary in Scotland, worked as a porter and then a lab aide in St James's Hospital, before applying and getting a job as a casualty doctor with no qualifications whatsoever.
He worked in Aer Lingus, as security guard in the US embassy, but charity was his "calling". He passed himself off as a priest and set up Christian Development Services, a counselling service which, like Console, took in cash donations. It ended up closing down after he was confronted by his own staff. Kelly next surfaced in 2002 with his Console charity which he claimed was in tribute to his late sister.
The HSE's internal audit suggests it was run like a family business, with Kelly at its head. Kelly opened the post and handled the donations. He drove a Mercedes CLS 2009, worth €30,613, and during the period of the audit, 2012 to 2014, he received consultancy payments of €218,516, and a credit card spend of more than €250,000 on two cards. His wife, Patricia, Console's chairperson and director - a post that is supposed to be unpaid - was paid €67,149 in that period, drove an Audi Q5, and ran up bills of €134,924 on a charity credit card. Their son, Tim, who ran Console's London office since July 2012, was on a salary of Stg£31,308 a year and owned a credit card that racked up spending of €77,597 in three years. Between them, the family Kelly accounted for €464,777 of the total expenditure of €736,022 on Console's 18 active credit cards between 2012 and 2014.
Their family home in Celbridge - which they still own - became Console's head office, and Paul and Patricia Kelly moved into a second home on an estate called Alexandra Manor in Clane, Co Kildare.
According to the credit card statements, the Kellys dined 48 times at their local Zest Cafe in Clane, between 2012 and 2014, at a cost of €3,942. Paul Kelly said he met potential donors and fundraising teams in "a social capacity".
Kelly charged dental bills to the tune of €1,340 to Console. Kelly first explained that there was an "incident" between a client and staff member at Console in Tralee. Later, Kelly told the HSE he had been assaulted at Limerick's Console Centre by "an intoxicated homeless man" and produced an "incident report" to back up his assertions.
He charged a motoring fine of €80 to his Console card on January 23, 2012. He explained that he was "attending a critical incident of suicide". "A payment of a motoring fine is a payment in relation to a person breaking the law and is not an appropriate use of public funds and charitable donations," the auditors noted.
The auditors questioned why Patricia Kelly should have her mobile phone paid for by Console, as her husband had described her as a "volunteer" who wasn't paid (even though auditors later discovered that she was). Kelly insisted that her phone was for work with Console.
Auditors were also struck by the purchases of clothes in boutiques, such as Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss in Kildare Village, and various high street shops in London. They created a table of 12 examples of the different explanations they received for the same purchase; a €95 purchase at Moss Bros was at first described as "clothing for poor homeless clients", then as a raffle prize for a fundraiser in Cricklewood, and finally as clothing for staff. In fact, the first time the HSE auditors heard about this clothing policy was in August 2015, according to the draft audit report. Console UK provided a clothing allowance for staff, volunteers and contract counsellors. They asked Kelly for a copy of the policy and he emailed it to them. It was dated 2010 but auditors established that the document had been created on the same day he had sent it.
On the night RTE's Prime Time report was broadcast, Console announced the resignations of Paul and Patricia Kelly. That same evening, Kelly met the HSE auditor with a final chunk of paperwork. They completed the audit the next day but by then the scandal had already exploded.
Five investigations are now under way into Console, including an "assessment" by the Garda fraud squad.
The business man and mortgage campaigner, David Hall, and a forensic accountant, Tom Murray, are leading the charge. They were asked by Aidan Eames, solicitor for Console, to review the charity. They found an organisation in chaos. The director of services told them of the shock and disappointment of staff. Debts were mounting up. Staff were using a company credit card to pay off the phone bill. Wages were paid sporadically.
The remaining directors Angela McGovern, Gerard Tiernan and Ursula Mulkerrins, claimed they were also betrayed. In court documents, David Hall, Console interim CEO, said they didn't even know they were directors and never attended board meetings.
Paul and Patricia Kelly did not go quietly. According to Hall's High Court affidavit, Console's solicitors tried to contact them after the Prime Time programme, but the Kellys said they were "too upset" to meet. But on Monday, Kelly turned up at the Console office in Celbridge and told staff it was "business as usual".
Kelly and his wife called to Eames Solicitors in Smithfield for what was intended to be an "orderly handover" following their resignations. Instead, Kelly told the lawyers that he hadn't resigned and still intended to run the charity. Later, David Hall was told by staff in Celbridge that the computer containing all the payroll details had been removed from the office and couldn't be found.
By Thursday, Hall and Murray were in the High Court, seeking court protection because Console was in "serious and exceptional danger." They were back in court on Friday, looking for more freezing orders, because of concerns over three properties including an eight-bedroom house in Galway, a PayPal account set up for donations, and transactions on an English bank account.
The court heard that the Kellys could not be found to serve court papers on them but Hall and Murray could tell that their emails had been read.
By Friday night, after more than 10 days of intense scrutiny, Paul and Patricia Kelly decided to make contact with Hall through an intermediary. They agreed to hand over the cars, credit cards and other Console assets to David Hall at a meeting in Dublin yesterday afternoon.
Despite the scandal, Paul Kelly presided over a charity that many of its users hailed last week as providing an essential and compassionate service. Hall hopes it will rise from the ashes. His attempts to protect it will be back in the High Court on Tuesday.