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Saturday 17 March 2018

Ordinary, decent people driven to fraud by mortgage debts – judge

David Raleigh

A judge has highlighted how "ordinary, decent people" who, after receiving threatening demands from their mortgage lenders, can be "driven into fraud" to meet the burden of their home debt.

Judge Eugene O'Kelly heard a case at Limerick District Court of a trainee teacher who committed fraud to make money to pay her mortgage, which had fallen into arrears.

The judge heard she had since lost her home.

Shirley Flanagan (32) pleaded guilty to five counts of deception and two counts of knowingly using a false insurance disc with the intention of inducing others to accept it as genuine.

The mother of two admitted, dishonestly and by deception, inducing five men to give her money on the pretence they would be issued with a valid motor insurance policy, with the intent of making a gain for herself.

The five men were drivers employed in Flanagan's father's taxi company.

Limerick District Court heard Flanagan, of Carrigeen, Annacotty, Limerick, was also studying to be a teacher when she got into financial difficulty.

She had tried to salvage her father's business which was "failing in the recession", the court heard.

"After her husband lost his job the situation became quite dire," explained solicitor Darragh McCarthy in mitigation.

"She was in receipt of a number of telephone calls from her mortgage lender. She received threats about her family home. It was then the money was taken from the drivers.

"She has lost pretty much everything," Mr McCarthy added.

Since then she has suffered from depression, the court heard, after her only son died from "medical difficulties" at just nine-and-a-half months.

Mr McCarthy said she had "borrowed and begged from family and friends" to pay back the €4,400 in total she had received from the drivers.

The offences dated from between December 2009 and January 2010. Each driver believed they were to be added on to a group insurance policy with Quinn Direct.

The court heard the policy had been cancelled at the time due to the non-payment of premium instalments.

Flanagan, who has no previous convictions, apologised through her solicitor.

"She has lost everything, her house, her teaching career, her son, her car," said Mr McCarthy. "She has undergone a huge amount of trauma over the past number of years. She couldn't sleep for fear that anything would have happened to these drivers," he said.

Judge O'Kelly (pictured) said: "It appeared to the court that there may have been a targeting of non-nationals here but I'm satisfied Ms Flanagan did not set out to approach and target non-nationals."

He said an aggravating factor was that "these taxi drivers believed themselves to be bona fide insured to carry passengers" and had unwittingly "exposed passengers to be carried in an uninsured taxi".

Judge O'Kelly said Flanagan's fraud "was not perpetrated for any personal greed" and she had "no trappings of wealth".

"This was fraud in a misguided attempt to stave off mortgage lenders who, I'm told, were making strong demands and threats for her to pay her debt.

"Cases like these further highlight the mortgage debt problem in the country where ordinary decent people are being driven into fraud to pay back debt."

He said these people were driven into fraud "perhaps, from shame or embarrassment, or having no way to address their financial difficulties".

Judge O'Kelly remanded Flanagan on continuing bail for payment of €4,400 compensation to appear in court for sentencing in November.

Flanagan left the court visibly shaken and distressed.

Irish Independent

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