Judgment reserved on Priory Hall developer’s bankruptcy appeal

Tom McFeely fighting order extending bankruptcy by almost five years

The Court of Appeal has reserved judgment on the appeal by Prior Hall developer Tom McFeely against an order extending his bankruptcy by almost five years.

In arguments for Mr McFeely on Wednesday, his lawyers said his fundamental rights were breached when computers and documents were seized from the offices of a company of which he was formerly a director.

Vincent P Martin argued his client's rights to privacy and private property were among those breached when a bankruptcy inspector searched the Holles Street, Dublin, offices of Coalport Building Co, of which Mr McFeely was a director until he resigned some years prior to his bankruptcy.

That raid by officers acting for the official assignee in bankruptcy, Chris Lehane, was the source for illegally obtained documents later used to back up the successful application to extend Mr McFeely's bankruptcy, counsel said.

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Had that not happened, Mr McFeely would have exited bankruptcy in July of last year but now faces being a bankrupt until 2020 unless he wins his appeal.

Mr Lehane has opposed the appeal as “entirely unmeritorious” and also argued some of the evidence about Mr McFeely’s non-disclosure of assets was not obtained in the search.

Fundamental matters

In submissions, Mr Martin said fundamental matters concerning bankruptcy law were at issue.

Mr McFeely denied he failed to disclose certain assets to the bankruptcy official which was one of the main reasons for court granting the extension, counsel said.

Mr McFeely strongly disputed the official assignee’s claim he had not disclosed his interest in 12 Dublin apartments, counsel said. That allegation was presented without proper proof that Mr McFeely had an interest in the apartments, which he denied.

Central to his argument was that the raid on Coalport was unlawful because Mr McFeely was not the owner of those offices, having resigned as a director of that company years earlier, counsel outlined.

The warrant used for that search was obtained under part of the Bankruptcy Act which only allowed for searches of premises which the bankrupt owned. Were it not for the fact that information, the substance of which was disputed, had been illegally obtained, the application for extension of bankruptcy would never have been before the court, counsel said.

Conduct searches

If allowed to stand, it would give “carte blanche” to the official assignee to conduct searches of any property it was thought a bankrupt has, counsel said.

Mr McFeely, while not legally trained, views that search as a burglary, he added. Mr McFeely also believed the official assignee was prejudiced and had based some of his information on media stories including in one Sunday newspaper which described the developer as a brute and an animal.

Bernard Dunleavy SC, for the official assignee, said the central plank of the High Court decisions to extend the bankruptcy was Mr McFeely's failure to provide a statement of affairs and "absolute refusal" to give the address of where he lived.

Mr Dunleavy said evidence in relation to some of the apartments was not obtained from Coalport but as a result of the official assignee being sent a management company’s service charge bill for some of the apartments.

Mr McFeely had no legal standing to make a case in relation to the Coalport search as that was a matter for Coalport and it had not taken any proceedings, counsel argued.