Monday 22 January 2018

Former Console chief Paul Kelly is driving an old car and living on the dole - but so far he has escaped sanction


Silence: Paul Kelly has never been called to account Photo: Robbie Reynolds
Silence: Paul Kelly has never been called to account Photo: Robbie Reynolds

Maeve Sheehan and Wayne O'Connor

The Mercedes and Audi no longer sit in the drive of the house in Clane owned by the one-time charity boss Paul Kelly.

Neighbours hardly see him. His daughter is rarely seen on the horsey circuit since her showjumper was stolen from stables in Longford days after the scandal about her father's financial misspending exploded so spectacularly at Console, the suicide charity he founded, this time last year.

There is no doubt that as a result of Kelly's actions, he and his family are suffering the fallout of the biggest single financial scandal to hit an Irish charity in years. But so far, he has escaped any public examination of the alleged corporate chicanery and misspending of public and donated funds under his stewardship of Console.

The Charities Regulator, John Farrelly, told a conference recently that he will use legislation against charities that are at risk or break the law. But the regulator has been granted powers to investigate charities only since September, which means the goings-on at Console are beyond his remit.

And one year on from the spectacular collapse of Console, which was liquidated within weeks of the scandal erupting, Kelly has yet to explain how more than €600,000 of the charity's funds were spent.

Liquidator Tom Murray is nearing the end of his work on winding up the beleaguered charity. According to one informed source, the liquidator's unpublished report shows that questions remain over more than €600,000 in spending.

The Charities Regulator has now urged the liquidator to do whatever is necessary to ensure that any outstanding Console assets are retrieved and put to proper charitable use.

Read more: Shamed Console chief 'detached from reality' over business plans

At a meeting with the liquidator last month, the regulator said it "expressed its position" that "all action required should be taken to ensure that any charitable assets are identified and used for the charitable purpose they were donated for."

On top of that, the Sunday Independent has learnt that the Office for the Director of Corporate Enforcement also appears to have stepped up its investigation into alleged breaches of corporate law at the charity. It has begun interviewing key witnesses in the past month.

Even still, David Hall, who was appointed to review the charity when the scandal broke, said there is still no conclusive report on what went on at what remains one of the country's "single biggest charitable scandals".

"As a sector, where are the lessons? How do you prevent this from happening again? There are no consequences. No naming, no shaming, no findings, no sanctions. Nothing," he said.

Hall was appointed by solicitors Aidan Eames the morning after Prime Time broke the bizarre story of Kelly as a man with a "history of deception" yet who had gone on to rack up questionable spending and salaries of more than €1m in three years - most of it coming from public donations or the State.

An audit by the Health Service Executive (HSE) uncovered a trail of expenditure by Kelly, his wife Patricia, and son Tim, and a web of company fakery that helped him conceal it from the authorities. Over three years, the family racked up spending of almost €464,000 on 11 credit cards, on foreign travel, hotels, designer clothes and groceries.

Directors were unaware they had been purportedly appointed to the board. Patricia Kelly drew a salary even though Console's charitable status forbids directors from being paid and Kelly had claimed she was an unpaid "volunteer". They both drove top-of-the-range company cars, an Audi and a Mercedes, which cost the charity more than €87,000.

The scandal evolved into a breathless caper as Hall and accountant Tom Murray chased down the assets they believed belonged to the charity, while the Kellys ran for cover.

Only after a High Court injunction, did they relinquish the company cars, credit cards and a computer hard drive that was taken from the office.

Kelly's history of deception just added to the drama, as stories unfolded of how he had passed himself off as a priest, doctor, pilot and, according to one former colleague, as a social worker in Cumbria. He still clings to some of the vestiges of his former life as a feted charity boss. He refused a request from organisers last year to return his People of the Year Award.

One of the saga's most bizarre twists involved a €40,000 showjumper called Ecapitola. Hall got a tip-off that the Kellys had bought a €40,000 horse for his daughter which was in stables in Longford. Before Hall could get to it, the horse was stolen.

Read more: Former Console chief invited HSE official on junket to London

Not many people would have known then that Kelly's daughter Robyn and her mare Ecapitola were staying at the stables outside Longford town owned by Gerry Flynn, the former Army commandant and showjumper. Robyn rode out his horses in return for lessons. According to Flynn, Robyn Kelly was "very upset" by the publicity surrounding her father as the Console scandal unfolded. One night, as the scandal still raged, Gerry Flynn took a phone call from a man claiming to be a detective sergeant with the Criminal Assets Bureau in Dublin.

"He said, 'You have a horse there on your property'. I said, 'Yes, I have'. He said, 'Do you have anything else there'? 'Well, the girl is staying here', I said. 'She has a car and a horsebox here as well'," Flynn told the Sunday Independent.

The man arranged to call the next day with a "Garda vehicle" and a female Garda in case Kelly's daughter was upset. Flynn was away when they called. But when his wife told him that the "gardai" were two men in plain clothes and in an unmarked car, Flynn became suspicious and reported it.

Gardai have been investigating ever since but so far, have found no trace of the horse. One of the suspects is a man who has links to organised crime and who lives in Kildare. He was arrested and questioned last year but released without charge. Kelly has said the horse was purchased with money he transferred to his wife from one of his pensions.

Hall regarded the horse as a distraction from more immediate troubles at the fast-imploding charity.

After threatening to sue the HSE at one point for money to keep it open, Hall asked the High Court to liquidate the charity and proposed another organisation, Pieta House, take on its clients and staff.

According to Hall, the 346 clients, the 19 people a day who rang the suicide helpline, and the staff, who felt particularly betrayed, were "forgotten" in the Console saga.

"There was a very, very difficult conversation in the Ashling Hotel where one of the staff likened what she had been put through to being abused. She felt she'd been violated by Kelly," Hall recalled.

Despite the question marks over corporate practices at Console, he registered a new business called Sanctuary Counselling last September, offering programmes to help employees facing difficult and challenging times.

If the business is trading, then it is low key. Kelly was forced to remove the website because of the publicity about his new business. The High Court heard last year Kelly and his wife were living on welfare payments of €300 a week and €6,700 in savings but had monthly repayments of more than €5,000 to service mortgages of €428,000 and €225,000 on their two homes. Their living expenses were €396 a week.

In his only public comments since his fall from grace, Kelly said he was "looking for a future" and trying to find ways of employment.

Last Wednesday, a modest green 19-year-old Opel Astra was parked in the driveway of Kelly's home in Alexandra Manor, Clane. Kelly emerged shortly after 10am and returned just before 6pm. The electric gates swung open as he approached. Wearing blue jeans and a pale-blue shirt, he stepped out of the car, removed a black laptop bag and strode towards the house as the gates closed behind him.

When we requested a moment of his time, he turned and asked: "Who's there?" On learning who we were, he said, "No," shaking his head firmly and walking towards his front door. He rebuffed a second attempt to request an interview the following morning as he left his house.

A neighbour has seen a notable increase in Garda patrols around Alexandra Manor in the past 12 months. Another local said Kelly's absence in the village was noticeable. Restaurants and cafes which the Kellys frequently visited are no longer regular haunts.

"I am not convinced Console is over. I am not convinced the full story is out yet," said Hall. "I have a lingering view that there is still more there, from talking to people. It is still like a dirty dark cloud hanging there."

Sunday Independent

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