Seánie winks as verdict exceeds his expectations
Jury returns with majority verdict at end of third full day of deliberation
The former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, makes a statement outside court yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Seán FitzPatrick began the day with an exercise in expectation management.
The former chairman of Anglo wasn’t getting his hopes up. In the corridor outside court number 19, he asked journalists how they thought the case would go. Not wanting to appear rude, they mumbled vague reassurances about nobody really knowing how these things pan out, at the end of the day.
“I think they’re going to find me guilty,” he declared.
And at the end of this particular day, there was nobody more happy than Seánie Fitz when the outcome managed to exceed his expectation. The third full day of deliberation was drawing to a close when the jury returned with a verdict.
While FitzPatrick’s name is the one most associated in the public mind with the defunct bank, he was not the only defendant in this case. Three men were in the dock. As the hours drifted by yesterday, court onlookers were resigning themselves to what seemed like the inevitability of a return this morning for more of the same.
Straight after lunch, Judge Martin Nolan told them a majority decision would be acceptable – a 10-to-two verdict would suffice.
People scanned the jurors’ faces to see if this direction would make a difference to their demeanour, but they remained expressionless. The seven women and five men would be recalled at 5pm, if they hadn’t come to a decision before then. At which point, unless they indicated a conclusion was imminent, they would be sent home.
The court slowly filled up again. The three defendants – FitzPatrick, Pat Whelan and Willie McAteer – returned to their seats at the appointed time. The court rose for Judge Nolan. And everybody waited in silence.
A few minutes passed. Tension rose. Then, finally, the door to the jury room opened. First out was the court official who looks after them – a man in a crested court blazer with a generous moustache. He looked up towards the judge and appeared to indicate there was a development.
The jury filed in and the atmosphere suddenly changed. The forewoman had a sheet of paper in her hand. FitzPatrick said something to Whelan. The three men looked very nervous. There was a moment of confusion, then the realisation that this would not be a full verdict, but a partial one.
Judge Nolan asked if 10 people had agreed. “At least 10,” replied the forewoman, before handing the issue paper to the official. The jurors looked drained, their work not yet complete. One woman seemed close to tears, head bowed, steepling her fingers over her face.
The registrar read the charges – 10 of them, all relating to Seán FitzPatrick and whether he had given illegal loans to the famous Maple 10 Anglo investors. The first one, then the second and so on. FitzPatrick’s hands were shaking, his fingers entwined as he heard her words. “Not guilty . . . not guilty . . . not guilty . . .”
Whelan and McAteer stared straight ahead as their former chairman leaned forward. You could see the strain lifting from him as his fate was pronounced in the crackling silence. In a little over a minute, Seánie FitzPatrick was free to go. Exonerated on all charges.
Whelan, the youngest of the trio, tapped his former colleague on the arm and quietly, at knee level, extended his hand. FitzPatrick smiled and gave a discreet wink to his senior counsel, Michael O’Higgins. And he turned and gave another quick little wink to smiling family members in the body of the court.
There were no cheers – how could there be, with the rest of the trial still to be decided. Then the court rose. McAteer immediately turned to FitzPatrick and shook his hand.
The man whom the court was told had been “singled out” for prosecution because he was “the face of Anglo” thanked his legal team.
The three men left with their lawyers. And the journalists streamed out behind them, caught in a quandary over covering the acquittal of Seánie FitzPatrick while respecting the stringent rules governing a trial that is still live. Their background stories would have to wait.
But one major part of that story was over. The man they first recorded standing in the dock on that dramatic morning when he appeared among the flotsam and jetsam of the courts, looking confused and out of his comfort zone, having been met by gardaí as he disembarked a transatlantic flight at dawn, was at the end of his ordeal.
The action moved outdoors to the steps of the court. Reporters, photographers and camera crews jostled for position in front of the main doors. Few noticed Whelan slipping away. He returns to court today with McAteer.
A PR man emerged and said FitzPatrick would be making a brief statement and taking no questions. The photographers plotted their route from the top of the steps to FitzPatrick’s taxi. They knew which one it was – he always takes the same one – right down to the registration number. They warned parents to move their children to safety.
“We don’t look back when we get moving – they’ll be trampled on.”
Finally, on his own, FitzPatrick bustled through the marbled foyer, through the security stiles and outside. There was a definite sense of brio about him.
A changed man to the pessimistic defendant of that morning, drinking cups of tea in the court cafeteria and doing his Irish Times crossword.
Seánie was smiling before he hit the microphones. He couldn’t stop smiling. He asked everyone to step back, took out his brown tortoiseshell glasses and began . . . “So, ladies and gentlemen . . .”
He held up his statement, silver cufflinks glinting in the evening sun, beginning by thanking his family, the jury and his legal team. Lots of people to thank, who stood by him over the past six years.
“To all my friends,” he said, before pausing and looking up for emphasis “and, in particular, two special friends . . .”
As his co-defendants still await their fate, there was no sense of triumph about him or his words, but he just couldn’t suppress that smile and his eyes radiated relief and happiness.
Then Seánie asked for privacy and requested that the courtesy which had been extended to him during the trial continue for him and his family. And he was gone, through the crush, into that taxi.
The story over. For now.