Sentence later for Clayton assistant guilty of stealing €2.8m from him

Sat, Jun 30, 2012, 01:00

THE FORMER personal assistant of U2 guitarist Adam Clayton has been found guilty of stealing almost €3 million from his bank accounts following a trial which the judge described as having “overwhelming evidence”.

The jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty on all 181 counts after five hours and three minutes of deliberations.

Carol Hawkins will be sentenced next week.

Outside the Criminal Court after the verdict had been given, there was a flurry of media excitement as Mr Clayton stepped out.

Camera shutters snapped as the U2 bassist posed for photos and read his short statement.

“I welcome today’s outcome and I wish to thank the jury, An Garda Síochána and all those involved in the case,” he said.

“I would like to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their support.”

He declined to answer further questions from the media.

Calm and collected, Mr Clayton stopped to take pictures with a fan before being hastily pursued to his waiting taxi by cameramen and photographers.

Carol Hawkins (48), Lower Rathmines Road, Dublin, had pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 181 counts of theft from two of Mr Clayton’s Bank of Ireland accounts from 2004 to 2008.

The thefts totalled €2,862,567.

The trial heard Hawkins was a “trusted employee” of Mr Clayton who betrayed his trust when she started to write cheques from his bank accounts in her name and lodging them into her personal, joint and credit card accounts.

The case was described by prosecution counsel as a “grubby tale of prolonged, repeated and pernicious fraud and gross mistrust”. The 18-day trial heard from 20 witnesses, including Mr Clayton, bank officials, accountants and gardaí.

The court heard that Hawkins had misappropriated funds from the U2 bass guitarist’s accounts and spent the money on buying and maintaining 22 thoroughbred racehorses, a €310,000 New York apartment, holidays and shopping sprees.

She also spent €1.4 million on her credit card, funded from Mr Clayton’s accounts, over the four years.

Hawkins, looking tired and drawn, sat with her hands clasped as the verdict was read out. Her defence said afterwards that Hawkins “maintains her position of innocence”.

Judge Patrick McCartan remanded her on bail for sentencing next Friday.

“The evidence in this case was overwhelming,” he told the jury. “Nobody could seriously disagree with the verdict you have given.”

Hawkins, who previously ran a small hotel on a Caribbean island, was employed in 1992 by Mr Clayton, initially as his housekeeper as he wanted someone to run his home while he was on tour with U2.

Her then husband John was employed, at the same time, as Mr Clayton’s driver and caretaker. They were on a joint salary of €48,000.

In 2004 Hawkins’s responsibilities grew and she became Mr Clayton’s personal assistant and an authorised account signatory responsible for paying his household and personal expenses.

She was provided with a credit card and Laser card paid by direct debit from one of Mr Clayton’s accounts to allow payment of his legitimate expenses without prior approval.

“Substantial trust was given to Hawkins to write and sign cheques,” said Colm Ó Briain, prosecuting.

In 2008 Hawkins approached Mr Clayton and admitted that she had booked and paid for flights worth €15,000 using his money, to visit her children in Britain and the US.

Following this revelation, Mr Clayton removed her as a cheque signatory but kept her on as his personal assistant.

After this initial disclosure, an investigation into Mr Clayton’s accounts took place and in November 2009, Hawkins was fired.

A fuller investigation was carried out by a forensic accountant hired by Mr Clayton, then by gardaí.

They found the €2.8 million worth of irregularities in the two accounts.

Ken Fogarty SC, defending, maintained Hawkins paid for items on her credit card to protect the privacy of Mr Clayton and that she had his consent to do this.

However Mr Ó Briain argued: “The evidence shows a deceitful side to a person, coupled with a level of cunning. She played on the good nature and trust of Adam Clayton to methodically steal from him.”

He said the writing of the cheques was not the act “of a flustered woman going through a separation” and that there was “no element of accident to it”.

Mr Ó Briain said it was a “cold, calculated act, perpetrated over a period of time”.