Thursday 13 December 2018

Former publican loses case over claims missing AIB manager defrauded her

The High Court
The High Court

Tim Healy

A former publican who claimed an ex-AIB investment manager defrauded her has lost a High Court action claiming losses and damages.

Ann Condon (53), Bridgemount, Carrigaline, Co Cork, claimed former Mallow AIB official Kieran Ashcroft stole from her and defrauded her of her investment in the Anchor Bar, George's Quay, Cork.

Mr Ashcroft, from Courtmacsharry, disappeared shortly after he was arrested in February 2004 as part of a garda investigation into the alleged fraud. 

The DPP directed he be charged with theft and fraud but this never occurred because he could not be found despite Interpol and Europol having been notified of his disappearance.

Ms Condon claimed she was one of a large number of victims of a €1.25m fraud perpetrated on AIB customers by Ashcroft who was dismissed from his job in 2002.

She sued AIB and Mr Ashcroft as well as Bank of Ireland (BOI) and its Mallow branch manager, Michael Carroll, who she claimed introduced Mr Ashcroft to her and recommended him as an investor in her business. 

Her claim included negligence and negligent misstatement as well as direct, or alternatively vicarious liability, by AIB for the actions of Ashcroft.

Mr Carroll and the banks all denied the claims.  Mr Ashcroft was not represented.

The court only dealt with the issue as to who was liable for her alleged losses and fraud.

Ms Justice Ní Raifeartaigh said the court was not entitled to start from a presumption of fraud by Mr Ashcroft and Ms Condon's case must be established on the balance of probabilities.

The 15-18 year gap between the hearing of this case more and the events it was concerned with was far from ideal given the effect on time upon memories, she said.

She noted that Mr Carroll, of BOI, although he had introduced Ms Condon to Mr Ashcroft, had testified he had not vouched for Ashcroft's character and never suggested they go into partnership over over the pub.

The judge was satisfied Mr Carroll had a more limited involvement than Ms Condon described to the court and that she had, with the passage of time, conflated the involvement of different people in the matter.

She rejected claims of negligent misstatement on the part of Mr Carroll or that AIB had knowledge of Mr Ashcroft's "fraudulent propensities".

She also rejected her claim of negligence in relation to both banks and Mr Carroll.

She said a claim in relation to the purchase of the house for her in Douglas, Co Cork, was "bizarre". 

She said Ms Condon had admitted in evidence she knew Mr Ashcroft set up a bank account to show she had funds of IR£30,000 to buy the house and knew the money was to be withdrawn 24 hours after she got approval for a loan from ACC.  She was party to a deception and a lie being told the ACC, the judge said.

In her action, Ms Condon claimed she was "left without a penny" after AIB  improperly honoured transactions by Ashcroft on a trading account he had set up for their business partnership in the Anchor.

She said AIB was aware of Ashcroft's activities which were under investigation by the Garda Fraud Squad in 2002. 

She claimed Ashcroft represented to her that IR£210,000 (€266,000) was the purchase price and she had put the bulk of her half of that sum into the business when the actual purchase price was £140,000.

She said he also persuaded her to take out a further IR£150,000 mortgage with BoI to convert the upstairs of the Anchor into two apartments although she believes only IR60,000 was actually spent on that work.

The court heard that, in October 2002, the Anchor was repossessed and Ms Condon had lost all the money she invested in it.

The court also heard Ms Condon had previously taken proceedings in relation to the same matters in 2002 against Mr Ashcroft and she later obtained a judgment in default against him.

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