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

The former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, makes a statement outside court yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 08:44

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.