Friday 6 December 2019

Well, beam me up Seanie . . .

Sean Fitzpatrick arriving at his Greystones home last night.
Sean Fitzpatrick arriving at his Greystones home last night.
Barrister Michael O'Higgins
Sean FitzPatrick leaving court

Lise Hand

'Here he is, here he is," hissed the jumble of press photographers – eagerly keeping sketch outside the courthouse for the first sign of Sean FitzPatrick's distinctive head of curly white hair approaching the exit.

And what a markedly different Seanie it was who emerged from the courthouse yesterday – a world away from the anxious-faced figure which hustled past the clicking press photographers for over 40 days as the Anglo trial rolled on.

His smile came through the door first. It was the trademark wide beam which had vanished along with Anglo Irish Bank, but now it was firmly back in place.

It had all been a little unexpected. When the jury were summoned back into Court 19 after about 14 hours of deliberations, there was a relaxed air in the room, a presumption that because they were returning as scheduled at 5pm, the seven men and five women would be sent home for the night.

There had been no particular sign that they were either close or distant from reaching a verdict; after lunchtime, Judge Nolan had told them that as they hadn't reached a unanimous decision, that a majority verdict would suffice.

But then the court official minding the jury scurried up to the judge's dais and whispered in the ear of Judge Martin Nolan. He nodded and then faced the room and half-raised both arms in a brief shrug.

Everyone in the quiet room snapped to attention, which sharpened further when the foreman of the jury walked in clutching sheets of paper in her hand.

Judge Nolan asked her if the jury had reached a majority verdict, and she answered in the affirmative. They had reached a decision on the 10 charges relating to Anglo's former chairman, Sean FitzPatrick.

Total silence fell on the half-empty room. In the box, the three accused, Sean FitzPatrick, Pat Whelan and Willie McAteer sat motionless and expressionless.

The court registrar stood and read aloud the verdict. Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty, over and over, 10 times in total.

As the last 'not guilty' rang out, Sean smiled and turned his head and winked in the direction of his family and friends – or it could've been aimed at his barrister Michael O'Higgins who had played a blinder on his behalf.

But still the courtroom was silent – there was no applause or outburst of emotion from anyone. People looked at one another and conferred sotto voce. Was Seanie free?

It took a few minutes for the realisation to dawn that the former Anglo chairman had been acquitted of all charges and was free to go. Beside him, Willie McAteer and Pat Whelan leaned over and shook his hand.

Sean stood and shook hands with his legal team – but as he stood he gripped the metal rail which runs across the top of the box where he had sat with his fellow executives through 43 days of evidence.

After a few moments he was moving again, making for the courtroom door for the very last time, surrounded by the black robes of his legal team and a couple of obviously overjoyed family members.

He disappeared into the consulting room with his legal counsel. Meanwhile, outside on the landing of the sixth floor court, the prosecution team were huddled in deep conversation.

Outside, the media waited. A few passers-by stopped to enquire what the fuss was all about; some stayed to watch, but most moved on.

Then word came out that Sean would make a brief statement, but would answer no questions, given that the jury were still deliberating in the cases of his two colleagues.

About 45 minutes after Judge Nolan dismissed him, Sean strolled into the sunlight. He was the picture of composure, politely asking the press scrum to move back and give him a bit of room.

Clearing his throat, he read from a carefully-worded statement. He thanked everyone – his family, friends and his legal team for their support during "this very difficult time".

Then he concluded by appealing for privacy. "I now simply ask that the courtesy extended to me and my family during the trial by the media be maintained and the privacy of my family which has been intruded on over the past six years will now cease," he said.

He then headed for a waiting taxi, engulfed by photographers. A little earlier, Pat Whelan had departed in a much quieter fashion. Seanie's story may be over, but for his two Anglo colleagues the waiting game continues.

Irish Independent

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