Thursday 18 January 2018

Tale of dramatic flight reads like a movie script

A MAN is brought to a walk-in freezer in Centra store.

He thinks he is going to be killed.

He is handed a suitcase containing €10,000 and given a hug before he flees Ireland on a ferry to Wales.

The distressing picture painted by former solicitor Thomas Byrne of the final days before his legal practice was shut down reads like the opening beats of a movie script.

Yesterday, the 47-year-old father of three broke down numerous times in the witness box at his €51.8m theft and fraud trial.

The former lawyer, who denies some 50 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004 and 2007 – the zenith of the Celtic Tiger years – took to the witness box in his own defence.

He said that when he learned, in October 2007, that a colleague was going to report him to the Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, he agreed to meet a woman at a Centra shop in Rathmines.

At the Centra, Mr Byrne said he went into a walk-in freezer, where a woman gave him €10,000 and a hug before the solicitor fled to Brighton and London via Holyhead.

Mr Byrne explained that the reason he was in fear of his life and his family's welfare was because of the financial pressure placed on him by his biggest client, John Kelly.

He said Mr Kelly, who had started off as his business partner in a property deal, "inveigled himself" into the office and became very aggressive.

AGGRESSIVE

Fighting tears, Mr Byrne told the jury that Mr Kelly had told him he had a brother involved with people in the North and was quite aggressive in his demands for money before Kelly told him to leave the country or face serious consequences.

Mr Kelly had a "voracious appetite for money" but had no income, according to Mr Byrne, who said he was financing Mr Kelly's day-to-day lifestyle.

By 2007, Mr Byrne, who said he could not cope and had started drinking heavily and taking tablets, claimed Mr Kelly was demanding finance of €450,000 a week.

The scene in Centra was a far cry from the heady days when, according to Mr Byrne, Mr Kelly organised a series of social events and launches to boost his own image as a "mover and shaker in the Irish economy".

Former Justice Minister Michael McDowell spoke at one event and former Tanaiste Mary Harney opened another.

Mr Byrne also revealed that donations were sought from him on behalf of the Labour Party.

John Kelly, who was the subject of the garda investigation into Mr Byrne's practice after gardai received two complaints, is not before the courts.

This has vexed Mr Byrne, who said he cannot understand why the man who apparently groomed him to borrow money on his behalf is not being tried.

During a draining day of testimony, Mr Byrne also raised questions about the role of the Law Society and the banks.

The trial continues at the Circuit Criminal Court.

Irish Independent

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