THE TRIAL has begun at Wexford Circuit Court of two men charged with forging the will of an 82-year-old bachelor farmer who died on Christmas Day in 1998, with the alleged forgery leaving a farm of 162 acres to one of them and making the other the executor
Noel Hayes (59), of Ramsgrange, New Ross, and 49-year-old William ( Willie) O'Leary, of Kilhilie, Arthurstown, New Ross, have both pleaded not guilty before Judge Ray Fullam and a jury of seven men and five women to forging the will of the late Matthew Hayes on an unknown date in December 1998 or January 1999.
The main witness for the prosecution is Charles (Charlie) O'Leary, of The Haggard, Ramsgrange, brother of defendant William O'Leary. The witness himself pleaded guilty in 2009 to playing a part in forging a will purporting to be that of Matthew Hayes. He was handed an 18-month suspended sentence at that time, and ordered to pay €30,000 compensation.
The court heard he no longer gets on with his brother, but he denied an accusation that the evidence he is giving is just an attempt to ' bring down' Noel Hayes and William O'Leary.
The trial began with Prosecuting Counsel, Philip Sheahan B.L., telling the jury that they would hear evidence of Grant of Probate being issued on April 27, 2002, in respect of the late Matthew Hayes who lived in Clonard, Duncannon, and who was 82 years of age when he died. Mr. Hayes was a single man who lived alone.
The Probate was issued in respect of of the Hayes estate to two brothers, Charles and William O'Leary, who had been named as executors of the will. The assets consisted of 162 acres of land in or around the Clonard area and Duncannon, as well as an amount of money held in some accounts. The will was dated August 31, 1998, with the estate being left to Noel Hayes, a distant relation.
Mr. Sheahan said the Matthew Hayes became ill and died in Wexford General Hospital on December 25, 1998, while by virtue of the will Noel Hayes realised the assets. The prosecution case, he said, is that the will was a complete deception, for it's the prosecutios case that Matthew Hayes did not make a will on August 31, 1998.
An unusual feature of the case, said Mr. Sheahan, was that Charlie O'Leary was an 'accomplice' in that he participated in the offence but later came forward and admitted it.
Charles O'Leary told the court in evidence that at Christmas 1998, he met with Noel Hayes and his brother William in the office of O'Leary International Transport in Ramsgrange. Noel Hayes told him of Matthew Hayes having gone to hospital, and not being likely to survive. During the conversation, it appeared that Noel Hayes was saying that his grandmother had been put off the land in Clonard years before.
The witness said he played a part in forging a will. They met in the office of O'Leary International some days after the death of Mr Hayes. He (Charles O'Leary) said he wrote the will for Noel Hayes, and asked Hayes if he wanted to give anything to Richard O'Grady. Noel Hayes said 'give nothing'. The date he put on the will was August 31, 1998.
Mr. O'Leary said they also talked at that time about doing a will with Noel Hayes, saying he (Hayes) had a copy of Matthew Hayes' signature from a cheque he had received and which he had kept a copy of. The witness said he told them at that time he did not know anything about a will or how to do a will or what would be involved. Subsequently they arranged a meeting with solicitor Martin Lawlor, of Coughlan Solicitors in New Ross, where they asked him about what needed to be done.
After that meeting, Noel Hayes got three to four blank copies of forms for wills in Waterford, which they had to fill in. They were blank wills, copies 'which one would buy off the shelf', he said. Having visited the hospital with Noel Hayes to see Matthew Hayes, who was in a vegetative state, just lying there, waiting to die, they later returned home. The following day, Christmas Day 1998, he was driving down the road and decided to take part in the writing of the false will.
He (witness) wrote out the will for Noel Hayes on the will paper, and said Noel Hayes signed Matthew Hayes' name on the will. After the will had been prepared, Martin Lawlor was asked if he would probate the will, but he said he would not. They had asked Martin Lawlor about how a will should be done and would an 'x' be sufficient in place of a signature. They had to look at another alternative and Noel Hayes organised a meeting with another solicitor in New Ross, Tom Kelly, which the three of them attended.
Charles O'Leary told of being a friend of Noel Hayes since the age of ten. He decided that he would help his lifelong friend after the death of his distant relative. 'I said I would partake in the writing up of the false will,' he said.
Replying to Patrick Gageby S.C., for Noel Hayes, the witness said he had received €12,500 from Noel Hayes some time after the probate had been finished, but he did not want the money. He had a friend named Michael Meyler in County Waterford, and he gave him €3,500 as it was close to Christmas, . while he also gave €2,500 to his sister, Francis, whom he thought was buying a car ' or something'. Later he put €7,000 euro into a Bank Account of Michael Meyler.
When Mr. Gageby put it to him that he wanted to bring down Noel Hayes and William O'Leary, he denied this, saying he could not live with what had been done.
'I have taken treatment for depression since January 2006 in Ely Clinic in Wexford. Things were troubling me. The will was troubling me. I was finding it very painful trying to live with this will, Matthew Hayes' will, which I had falsified. It was hanging over me. I told my psychiatrist about the will,' he said.
'As a consequence of this I visited by friend, Minister Hugh Byrne in the Hook, four to five times. I talked to him and I eventually plucked up the courage and told him what was troubling me. I went to see a solicitor in Waterford, telling him the extent of my involvement in the forging of the will. I also told him I had been suffering from depression. I waited to give a full account of everything. I formed the intention of having to put everything right. Later I approached Sergeant Jim Furlong, after which I spoke with Sergeant Slattery.'
Mr. Michael O'Higgins S.C., for William O'Leary, told the witness that his client was told he was the executor in the will and documents were brought to him to sign, which he did, which was his sole part in this.
However, the witness said that some of that is not true.
Mr. O'Higgins said that William O'Leary had no hand, act or part in signing any will. He was given documents as executor and he signed them, and that was the beginning, middle and end of it.
Under further cross-examination by Mr. O'Higgins, Charles O'Leary said that himself and Willie 'wouldn't have been drinking buddies'. 'Willie and myself don't talk at all since November 2004,' he said.
When it was put to Mr. O'Leary, one of thirteen children, that ' he had fought like a proverbial cat and dog for years' with his brother William, he said they had their battles out in the open.
The court also heard that Noel Hayes' wife had begged Charlie O'Leary to come in on a land deal. Mr. O'Leary said he was under severe pressure with work and did not get involved with the deal.
The court heard during the second day of the trial that defendant Willie O'Leary is unable to read or write, despite being ' brilliant' with mental arithmetic.
A report prepared by consultant clinical psychologist Ann O'Connell stated that the accused was always 'superb' with figures, and able to carry much business information in his head, but was still unable to read or write and he employed other people to look after
such tasks in the running of his business.
The report also told how the accused wrote his name quickly when asked to do so, without isolating specific letters, while he hesitated over the spelling of his address. It further stated how he uses predictive texts to write messages on his phone.
His counsel, Michael O'Higgins SC, said his client actually has the reading capacity of a seven-year-old.
Mr O'Higgins went on to quiz witness Charlws O'Leary of the meeting in Ramsgrange which he said was attended by himself and the two accused, and where he said he heard a story from Noel Hayes about his grandmother or great-grandmother being put off her land.
Mr. O'Leary said he was anxious' to have it out there', for everybody to know what the truth is.
Mr. O'Higgins suggested to Charles O'Leary that when he went to Wexford General Hospital with Noel Hayes to see Matthew Hayes, that it was 'some type of ghoulish exercise' while looking at the man's land he was going to sign over.
Mr. O'Leary agreed that it was a terrible thing to do.
'But I don't know really why I went there. The man was in his bed, in a vegetative condition,' he said.
Mr. O'Higgins suggested that they went to the hospital in the hope that Matthew Hayes was conscious and capable of conversation, and that he might have actually signed the will in the hospital.
However, the witness said Matthew Hayes was dying.
Replying to further questioning from Mr. O'Higgins, the witness said: 'Yes, I decided to fake it (the will). My decision was not taken until Christmas Day.'
Mr. O'Higgins suggested that if the witness's account was true, he was asked to steal the land from a dying person.
The witness said he was driving down the road on Christmas Day, when he decided that if Matthew Hayes died that day and that if he did not profit from it, he somehow would be able to accommodate it (falsifying a wlll). 'I was having a wrestling match with myself,' he added.
The witness told Mr. O'Higgins that following proceedings with O'Leary International in 2004, and settled in 2005, he walked away with €2.97 million for transfer of shares, was paid €37,500 for arrears in rent of premises in Ramsgrange, and €54,000 in respect of termination of employment. It was also agreed that any directors loans up to €80,000 would be waived against him.
Mr. O'Leary also agreed that he had pleaded guilty at a previous court to the falsification of the wil,l for which he received an 18 month suspended sentence and a €30,000 fine.
He also said that he had a shareholding in South-East Vegetables, of which Noel Hayes, William O'Leary, Paul Begley and himself were shareholders. He was later sacked as a Director of South East Vegetables.
The witness also told Mr. O'Higgins that he later went to O'Leary Logistics in Dover in England, which was a company for freight forwarding, adding that 'it's a bit like acting as an agent'. He said the company had three shareholders, including himself.
The company, incorporated in January 2002, subsequently turned over profits over the following three years, slightly in excess of STG £200,000 but the company then went bust 'in no time', with serious debts and O'Leary International getting a judgement for STG £82,000 against the company.
Replying to Mr. O'Higgins, the witness said he had loans on businesses, with €1.7 million on lands in Ramsgrange and €1.5 million to €1.6 million on a filling station, making total loans in excess of €3 million.
WITNESS Charlie O'Leary was accused of being a liar when Defence Counsel, Michael O'Higgins, concluded his cross-examination on the third day of the trial.
During his closing remarks, Mr. O'Higgins put it to Charlie O'Leary: 'You are a liar. You're 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 right?'
Mr. O'Leary replied: 'No'.
Earlier, Mr O'Higgins put it to the witness that in November 2005, he tricked a driver of an O'Leary International truck to vacate his cab in Rosslare Port.
'You were one of three people who tricked this driver on the occasion,' suggested Mr. O'Higgins.
The witness said he was accompanied by his son and father-in-law.
Mr. O'Higgins suggested that once the driver left the cab of the truck, the air compression was released to allow for the removal of the trailer, while the driver's phone was also taken.
However, Mr. O'Leary denied taking the phone. 'I simply turned it off. I did not retain the phon. I put back in the cab. I released the air to allow me place my own cab under my trailer,' he said.
Mr. O'Higgins said: 'I will give you the lowest value of chemicals on the refrigerated truck, as €950,000. That's what you were involved in.'
The witness said that he had not planned it. 'I was scouting around looking for my trailer, which had been stolen from my yard in Ramsgrange. I was just down in Rosslare when I spotted the truck.'
Mr. O'Higgins told the witness that the trailer contained dated products. 'This incident indicates a deep malice in you towards Willie O'Leary,' he said, to which the witness replied: 'I disagree'.
Mr. O'Higgins told the witness that O'Leary International went to a court of law and got a judgement for €82,000 against O'Leary Logistics, but never received a cent. He also put it to the witness that the trailer belonged to O'Leary International.
However Charlie O'Leary said that O'Leary International had paid €25,000 euro towards the trailer while O'Leary Logistics paid the balance of the €50,000, as O'Leary International owed them (O'Leary Logistics) the money.
Mr.O'Higgins also asked the witness if he was interviewed by the gardai as to the dangers of keeping this load.
Mr. O'Leary replied: 'I was visited by local gardai.'
When Mr. O'Higgins suggested that this load was in connection wtith a very important client of O'Leary International, the witness replied: ' They were our client. I went down to the company and acquired the contract to ship from Kinsale in Cork. I went down with Niall Murray'.
But Mr. O'Higgins said that DHL was not just a customer of O'Leary International, but that they accounted for 35% of their business. He also told the witness that as a result of his taking the load, he was sued by O'Leary International. 'The matter came before the court in 2009 and you paid O'Leary International €100,000. That must have hurt,' he said, to which the witness replied: 'I had to do what I had to do'.
'You hoped to scupper the contract of DHL so as you could benefit,' accused Mr.O'Higgins.
Mr. O'Higgins also told the witness that he was a very bitter man and that when he fell out with someone, he fell out for life, as seen by how there are six members of his family that he has not spoken to for years.
Further details emerged of how Charlie O'Leary had been sued by family members, including a niece who claimed she had been assaulted by him during the course of a row in a pub. Another brother, Robert, was involved in a 17-year battle with Charlie O'Leary 'over a piece of land', the court was also told.
Mr. O'Higgins said that Charlie O'Leary's niece, Amanda, had received injuries as the result of the pub row.
'I walked her from the pub,' replied Charlie O'Leary.
When Charlie O'Leary said that three of them were involved in forging the will, Mr. O'Higgins suggested that Willie O'Leary is a man of poor literacy skills but was a perfect foil to sign documents he could not understand or read.
Mr. O'Higgins also suggested to the witness that the game is up. 'You slotted Willie O'Leary into your story about faking the will. You are a liar, lying about Willie O'Leary and keeping up the grudge match that has been in existence for years now,' he said.
The trial continues today (Tuesday).