Witness tells former solicitor's trial her mother was unable to sign documents to sell her house

Monday 14 October 2013 22.38
Thomas Byrne has pleaded not guilty to theft, deception, fraud and forgery offences
Thomas Byrne has pleaded not guilty to theft, deception, fraud and forgery offences

A witness in the Thomas Byrne fraud trial has told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that her 90-year-old mother would have been incapable of signing documents to sell her house to the former solicitor.

Vera McGrane was giving evidence on the fourth day of the trial of Mr Byrne, of Mountjoy Square in Dublin.

Mr Byrne denies 51 charges of theft, fraud, and forgery involving six banks, €50m, and 12 Dublin properties.

Ms McGrane said her mother Kathleen Fahy could not have signed a deed of transfer in May 2007.

It was a month before her mother died, she was living with her in Cork and was "fairly ill" and confined to bed.

She said her mother had a tremor in her hand and could not have signed any documents without help.

She denied on cross-examination that she knew Mr Byrne well and regularly stayed with him and socialised with him when visiting Dublin.

She said she knew him as her nephew's friend and was out socially with him on one occasion only.

He had acted for her in three property transactions.

She denied they had regularly been to dinner in Roly's Bistro and the Lobster Pot restaurants.

She also rejected suggestions by the defence that she had travelled to Dublin to get the relevant forms for the sale of the house in Walkinstown from Mr Byrne and got her mother to sign them.

She said this was "in his dreams" as she never left her mother's side from the time she moved in with her in 2006 until her death the following year.

She said she never had anything to do with the sale of her mother's house.

She rejected a claim by the defence that she had agreed the sale in May 2007 when the deed was signed but had agreed he would not pay over the money until November of that year, by which time his practice had been closed down.

The court was told that Mr Byrne had drawn up a will for Mrs Fahy some years earlier.

After her death, the family asked him to act in the sale of the house.

The family became concerned when an estate agent with a confirmed buyer could not contact Mr Byrne.

Mrs Fahy's grandson, Conan Budds, told the court Mr Byrne was engaged to draw up his grandmother's will.

After her death, they engaged him for legal work on the sale of the house on Bunting Road in Walkinstown, but the auctioneer had difficulty getting a response from him when a buyer was found.

After Mr Byrne's practice closed, he discovered two banks were making a claim over the house on foot of mortgages taken out on it.

They also discovered a deed of assignment purporting to have sold the house to Mr Byrne.

Mr Budds said the deed was dated just a month before his grandmother's death.

He said there was no evidence of her bank account having received €340,000 - the purchase price on the deed of assignment.

He had conversations after that date with Mr Byrne about the sale of the house to a third party, during which Mr Byrne never mentioned any sale earlier that year, he said.

During cross-examination, he said he knew Mr Byrne in school and college as they both qualified as solicitors.

He agreed his aunt, with whom his grandmother resided before her death, had dealings with Mr Byrne.

He agreed that he had not seen his grandmother in the 12 months before her death.

He agreed she was in good mental and physical health after she had left the family home to live in a nursing home for a time before moving to her daughter's home in Cork.

He also agreed an assignment of a property could be made without altering a will.

Brothers Michael and Brendan Dunne told the court they had known Mr Byrne for 30 years and he had prepared their mother Patricia Dunne's will.

Michael Dunne said after Mr Byrne's practice had closed down, he discovered that two banks were expressing a claim over his family home.

They later discovered a deed of transfer purporting to show the sale of the house to Mr Byrne in 2002.

He said he had lived in the house on Walkinstown Road all his life and continued to live there after his mother's death in 2008.

The house had been left to him in his mother’s will.

He said the signature on the deed bore no resemblance to his mother's.

His brother Brendan agreed the signatures on the deed of transfer and on a family home declaration were not his mother's, nor were the details on the declaration correct.

Both men said they were not aware of any sale of the house to Mr Byrne in 2002 and their mother had not received €240,000 as the deed of transfer suggested.