Monday 15 July 2019

Former high-flyer O'Donnell was dull, dogged and pompous in court battles

An exasperating figure in the courtroom made for very little sympathy, writes Nicola Anderson

Brian O'Donnell
Brian O'Donnell
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'In the future, who knows if our luck will change," Brian O'Donnell said at the original bankruptcy hearing in London in 2012. "I am an optimist."

We can only presume that it was this spirit of 'optimism' that saw him through 82 subsequent failed court appearances.

To Mr O'Donnell, it may have been 'statistically impossible' to have lost every single one of these hearings.

However to most onlookers, it merely seemed a logical unfolding of inevitable and much procrastinated justice. Not even withstanding the fact that his fight was against a universal enemy - the banks.

It is a long-winded fight that Mr O'Donnell is now taking to the European Court of Human Rights.

The last high profile Irish case before the ECHR was Louise O'Keeffe, a survivor of child sexual abuse.

When the O'Donnells bought the Vico Road property with its sweeping coastal views in 1997, they threw a gilt-edged party with champers and caviar for 150 guests as a sign that they had arrived.

But the farcical assertion by Jerry Beades of the New Land League that it was merely a 'bog standard house' had an element of truth in it when compared to the O'Donnell's opulent home in London's Westminster, one block away from parliament.

"It was the biggest house in two or three blocks in one of the most expensive areas in London," one observer recalled.

Having convinced others, it was clear Mr O'Donnell had also managed to convince himself since he still clings to an aura of privilege, despite his ruined finances.

It is fair to say that Mr O'Donnell did not garner much sympathy throughout these 82 court appearances, as he swanned in with a battered leather bag and a dogged air of injury.

His pompous manner of speech managed to be simultaneously affected and dreary, and along with his off-hand and airy assumption that he was entitled, legally, morally and otherwise, to stay on at Gorse Hill, he cut an exasperating figure in the courtroom.

Eyes thrown up to heaven became a regular sight amongst onlookers amazed and aghast at his tenacity.

At one end of the bench was always father and son, pitted against a whole legal team acting for the bank.

And yet knowing the legal process as well as he did - and having outside advice from solicitors in Germany and Scotland - Mr O'Donnell drifted calmly through the tiers of the Four Courts, aware of his rights, though probably equally aware that he was facing an inevitable outcome.

But it still did not stop him from fighting it to the bitter end - and beyond.

Cian Ferriter, SC for Bank of Ireland managed to maintain his cool throughout umpteen courtroom duels - but it was patently clear this was not always easy in the face of Mr O'Donnell's persistence.

He maintained a reliance on what he saw as key facts.

Always, the mop-haired solicitor was flanked by his son, Blake, who clearly hero-worships his father.

Mr O'Donnell's assumption of entitlement was the same he had shown back in 2000 when a mudslide caused by the building of their house on Killiney Hill caused the Dart line to be closed for a week.

When Iarnrod Éireann said it would pursue anyone who was building a house at the time that may have contributed to the problem, Mr O'Donnell claimed the rail company was 'looking for someone to blame' because it had not unblocked drainage holes in its barrier walls.

But any sympathy that may have remained for the O'Donnells' case was dealt a body blow when daughter, Blaise, hissed: "You watch yourself," to a solicitor acting for Bank of Ireland.

It was an ugly, unclassy and illuminating gesture that showed the O'Donnells' sheer contempt for the legal process.

In London, the bankruptcy hearing in 2012 showed the degree of anger O'Donnell has towards Bank of Ireland, who he claims singled him out for special treatment, saying that one member of staff is "consumed with animosity" towards him.

A person who knows the couple says O'Donnell became incandescent with rage with the bank as the situation developed.

"Even though he is Irish, he was not at home in Ireland from the time he started enjoying financial success and from the time the tide started turning, he disliked Ireland to a much greater extent," the associate said.

Then, the London court heard the O'Donnell parents had put Gorse Hill in a trust for their children after they were "nearly drowned in a Force 11 gale."

He declared that he had no intention of living in Ireland again and that it held nothing for him. "I have no intention of going back to Dublin and no one can compel me to live in a place I don't want to live," he said.

That statement seemed at odds with the image Mr O'Donnell contrived to convey in the Irish courts, though Mr Ferriter argued wearily that the family's real home was in Surrey and that they had only come over to take up residence in Gorse Hill.

Again and again, he argued that the O'Donnells were simply engaged in "a tactical manoeuvre" to frustrate lawful efforts to take possession, having "barricaded themselves and holding out a spurious right to remain there" and that their true home is in Surrey in England.

Mr O'Donnell told reporters back in 2012 that he was writing a book about his experiences.

But whether the book could possibly shed any more light on Mr O'Donnell's mindset than his actual actions do, is doubtful.

Irish Independent

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