Friday 19 January 2018

It's over - Former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Sean FitzPatrick walks from court for the final time

Judge told Mr FitzPatrick: “You are free to go and thank you very much for your attendance”

Sean FitzPatrick is all smiles as he leaves court with his daughter Sarah after hearing of his acquittal
Sean FitzPatrick is all smiles as he leaves court with his daughter Sarah after hearing of his acquittal

Andrew Phelan

FORMER Anglo Irish Bank Chairman Sean Fitzpatrick has walked free from court this morning after being formally acquitted of misleading Anglo’s auditors about millions of euro in loans.

The longest-running criminal trial in the history of the state came to an end at 10.50am when Judge John Aylmer directed the jury to find Mr Fitzpatrick not guilty on all charges.

The judge told Mr Fitzpatrick: “you are free to go and thank you very much for your attendance.”

Mr Fitzpatrick stood, smiled and replied: “thank you, judge” before leaving Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

The judge had told lawyers yesterday, on the 126th day of the trial, of his intention to direct an acquittal. His ruling came after the defence argued that the case should not go before the jury because of flaws in the investigation process and in the prosecution case.

The former banking executive then left the Criminal Courts of Justice for the last time after the jury was discharged, the final chapter in the legal saga.

“I don’t want to be rude, but I’m not going to speak, I’m not making any comment,” he told waiting reporters.

Asked if he planned to celebrate today, he said: “that was last night.”

He then got into a waiting taxi with his daughter Sarah and was driven away.

Mr FitzPatrick had been accused of misleading Anglo Irish Bank’s auditors about millions of euro in loans between 2002 and 2007.

He pleaded not guilty to 27 offences under the 1990 Companies Act. These include 22 charges of making a misleading, false or deceptive statement to auditors and five charges of furnishing false information in the years 2002 to 2007. The DPP had dropped some of these charges in the last four weeks.

The prosecution came on foot of an investigation by the ODCE that began shortly after the full size of Mr FitzPatrick's personal loans emerged in December 2008. Between 2005 and 2007 the loans from the bank linked to the chairman had quadrupled to around €122 million.

The revelations led to Mr FitzPatrick resigning as chairman.

The hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court was a retrial after the first trial in May 2015 ended following weeks of legal argument over the flaws in the ODCE investigation.

The retrial began last September and was scheduled to last three months but became mired in weeks of legal argument in the absence of the jury.

Before today’s proceedings, Mr Fitzpatrick, wearing a grey suit, blue shirt and red tie sat on a court bench and chatted with his daughter and PR advisor Brian Harmon.

He had sat in the dock for the duration of the trial.

“I would like to say that if any of you have been reading newspapers or the internet contrary to my admonishments in that regard, I can forgive you on this occasion,” Judge Aylmer told the jury.

He explained that yesterday he had given permission to the media to publish his decision on a matter of law that the prosecution had not made a sufficient case to go to the jury.

“I am going to be careful not to say too much about that,” he said. “Because I made a lengthy ruling, I went into a lot of detail and you have effectively given eight months of your lives to this case. I want you to have a full understanding on the basis on which I have decided to direct you to acquit the accused on all counts, but to do that I woud have to repeat every word I said yesterday.”

He said he was not going to do that, or synopsise.

“The thrust of what I have decided is there was an investigation of the charges against Mr Fitzpatrick which fell short of that which an accused person is entitled to.”

He said he had made a number of comments arising from the evidence which he had heard and the shortcomings that were highlighted by the defence.

“Ultimately what I decided was that there were shortcomings in the evidence in relation to each of the charges, which meant that there was an insufficient case,” he continued. “The prosecution had not proved its case to the standard required… which would allow me to let the charges go before you to decide on the matter.”

He asked the foreperson to sign the issue paper on each of the counts on which the registrar had written “not guilty” on his direction.

Before this happened, he said he had to discharge one of the 13 members of the enlarged jury and explained, to laughter, that the name would be picked out of a biscuit tin.

As this woman's name was selected, he thanked her and told her she was entitled to be excused from furth jury duty for life.

“It is the only compensation that I can offer you for the eight months that you have given to the trial,” he said.

The registrar then handed the issue paper, which had been prepared in advance, to the foreperson of the jury. Judge Aylmer said nine of the 27 counts had already been conceded by the prosecution.

“I would like to thank you profusely for your attendance over the last eight months,” he told the 12 members of the jury.

“It is quite extraordinary that we managed to retain 13 of you. I expect some of you may be disappointed at how it has panned out but I wish to emphasise that a trial cannot proceed without a jury and you are an essential part of the process. Your service is hugely appreciated by society. It is regrettable that I can do no more for you than excuse you from jury duty for the rest of your lives.”

“Mr Fitzpatrick, the prosecution has confirmed that there is nothing else against you,” he concluded. “You are free to go and thank you for your attendance.”

Mr Fitzpatrick stood and smiled, saying “thank you, judge.”

At 11.15am, he walked out the front door of the Criminal Court of Justice to a throng of photographers and journalists before leaving in a taxi with his daughter.

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