HEATHER Perrin was truly a pillar of the community in Malahide, north Dublin. She was a leading light in the Girls' Brigade. The Church of Ireland parish newsletter still lists her name and number as the main contact point for the Christian group for young girls. She was a stalwart in the north Dublin Anglican community.
As a solicitor with her own practice in Fairview, she was often called on or offered to look after legal issues as they arose in the community, such as property sales and other legal housekeeping. Given the trouble in which she now finds herself, it is not surprising that a veil of silence has been drawn over the name of Heather Perrin.
Last week, Ms Perrin made history in all the wrong ways. She became the first member of the judiciary in the history of the State to be convicted of a criminal offence. She could also become the first to be impeached, if she fails to resign. A unanimous jury found that she had tried to trick an elderly client into changing his will to leave half of his estate worth more than €1m to her two adult children, Sybil and Adam Perrin. She could face up to five years in jail when she is sentenced on Wednesday.
It is ironic that Ms Perrin conducted this deception just one month before she was to be appointed a District Court judge. Had she remained a practicing solicitor, her fraud might never have been found out. But she had ambitions beyond her solicitor's firm.
She specialised in the usual bread-and-butter deals of a family firm, such as conveyancing, probate, litigation and family law. Thomas Davis was a long-standing friend and client. Mr Davis's wife was also involved in the Girls' Brigade, and they knew the Perrin children since they were very young.
According to evidence in court, Mr Davis wanted to make changes to his will and, on January 22, 2009, called to her Fairview offices to sign them.
He left €2,000 to various churches and wanted to leave €2,000 each to Sybil and Adam Perrin, when he and his wife passed away. He wanted to sell his house and divide the proceeds between his two nieces, and what was left after that was to be divided between his nieces and the Perrin children. Those were his instructions, Mr Davis claimed in court.
But Ms Perrin apparently had other ideas. Her children's names were inserted onto the will, which was co-signed by her husband, Albert, and her secretary, Pauline Ball.
A copy of his original will – outlining Mr Davis's original instructions – was sent out in the post, so he suspected nothing.
That changed in February 2009, when she was elevated to District Court. As with any new firm that takes over an existing practice, O'Hanrahan Quaney began reviewing the files. A lack of organisation was the least of their concerns. Far more pressing was their concern about Mr Davis's will and its generosity towards Ms Perrin's children. The firm contacted Mr Davis to ask him about the will, and he in turn consulted Ms Perrin. She wrote to the firm on his behalf, asking it to leave him alone.
When O'Hanrahan Quaney persisted in asking questions, Mr Davis arranged a meeting. He said he could not believe it went they showed him the will. He changed it back that day.
Mr Davis's family gave evidence of how shocked they were. One of his two nieces, Michelle Checklin, rang Ms Perrin to confront her. According to her account, Ms Perrin asked if there was a problem. Ms Checklin replied: "Yes, because you put your children in my uncle and aunty's will."
Ms Perrin said that must have been her secretary's mistake and promised to sort it out. Michelle said it already was being sorted out. Unsurprisingly, relations between Ms Perrin and the Davis family soured after that. Heather's husband, Albert, wanted to see if the whole mess could be sorted out. He asked a local woman, Joan Darling, who was friends with both sides, to intervene, telling her that his wife had only done what Mr Davis asked. She approached Mr Davis but he refused to discuss anything, saying it wouldn't be appropriate.
Not long afterwards, the matter was reported to the garda fraud squad. When Ms Perrin was arrested and questioned by them in late 2010, she was in shock and utterly denied their claims. She was interviewed five times, giving apparently different versions of events each time. She claimed the Davises were old and couldn't remember what their instructions were. She railed at Mr Davis's nieces, claiming that he was unhappy with how they had squandered cash gifts – which the nieces later denied.
She claimed that Noel O'Hanrahan, who took over her practice, was behind the allegations. She told gardai that Mr Davis had complained that he was a "bully" who wouldn't stop contacting him. She revised the date on which they first discussed making her children beneficiaries of the will.
In her short spell as a District Court judge, Ms Perrin largely worked in the Children's Court. For many of the troubled youngsters who trooped through her court, their crimes paled in comparison to hers.