Wednesday 11 December 2019

Couple must repay €124,000 given to them by frail widow

Tim Healy and Brian McDonald

AN 80-year-old widow who handed over €124,000 in life savings to a neighbouring couple after they drove her from a nursing home to her bank will have to be repaid, a High Court judge ruled yesterday.

Mr Justice John Hedigan found George and Pauline O'Donnell of Shannon Park, Portumna, Co Galway, had used undue influence to get Mary Bourke to withdraw the money from Bank of Ireland, Portumna, on December 6, 2007.

He also found the bank had breached its contract with Ms Bourke by allowing her to enter into an improvident transaction with the O'Donnells and had made no real inquiry into her capacity to undertake such a "bizarre" transaction.

He ordered that the couple and the bank are liable to repay Ms Bourke the €124,000.

Yesterday her nephew Robert Butler welcomed the court's decision. Mr Butler had attended all of the court hearings on his aunt's behalf.

"I'm happy with the outcome. I was disgusted at what happened. I was very annoyed that the bank would act that way", he told the Irish Independent.

The O'Donnells were not at home yesterday in Shannon Park, but local people said they were pleased that Ms Bourke would now be getting her money back.

"She is an iconic person in Portumna as she lived for years in her stone bungalow on the bridge and was familiar to everyone until she got sick," said one local who did not wish to be named. Ms Bourke, a resident at Portumna Retirement Village, has no children and suffered ill health for many years. She had paid the O'Donnells to run errands for her while she lived at home with her late brother, the court heard. She claimed the couple had influenced her into the transaction knowing she was frail, confused and of advanced years.

Both the O'Donnells and the Bank of Ireland had denied the claims. On the day the money was withdrawn, the couple signed Ms Bourke out of the nursing home and brought her to the bank, where it was arranged that the O'Donnells would be given €124,000 -- the proceeds of an insurance policy which Ms Bourke had received just three weeks earlier.

Ms Bourke had told the court during a hearing last July that she had no recollection of the visit to the bank.


The withdrawal came to the attention of her nephew Robert Butler, who lives in Birmingham. In his judgment yesterday, Mr Justice Hedigan said the O'Donnells had been the most frequent visitors to Ms Bourke in the nursing home and were her "only link to the outside world".

He said: "She was a highly vulnerable, elderly lady. The transaction itself was wholly improvident. She was divesting herself of the large bulk of her assets for no return whatever."

Mr Justice Hedigan said the presumption that the O'Donnells had used undue influence on Ms Bourke had not been rebutted as they had chosen not to give any evidence in the case.

It appeared that Ms Bourke at the time of the transaction was so mentally disordered as to have lost her contractual capacity, he said. The judge ruled that the bank had breached its duty to enquire into Ms Bourke's capacity where substantial grounds to doubt existed.

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