Travel agent who used ‘Father Ted’ defence loses charity theft conviction appeal

John Murphy had pleaded not guilty to theft from The Children to Lapland Appeal

Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES

 

A travel agent found guilty of stealing money from a charity which sent terminally ill children to Lapland has lost an appeal against his conviction.

John Murphy (69), also known as Con Murphy, had pleaded not guilty to four counts of theft from The Children to Lapland Appeal between June and July 2010 totalling €18,643.

Murphy, of Church Road, in Killiney, had founded the charity in 1987. It raised money from donations to bring terminally ill children on trips to see Santa Claus in Lapland. Murphy also operated United Travel, a travel agent based in Stillorgan, in Dublin, before it went out of business in 2012.

His defence at trial was that the charity owed him money and it was normal for monies to travel back and forth between the accounts.

The prosecution characterised his position as “the Father Ted defence”. “To quote Dermot Morgan, they’re trying to say ‘the money was simply resting in my account’,” Garrett McCormack, for the DPP, contended.

Murphy was found guilty by a jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court after 42 minutes of deliberations and he was subsequently given a wholly suspended three-year sentence by Judge Pat McCartan on March 16th, 2016.

The Court of Appeal upheld his conviction on Friday.

Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said the evidence that Murphy held a genuine belief that he was entitled to the money was “thin”. The evidence went no further than an agreement by the prosecuting garda that Murphy’s personal bank account was used on occasion to pay wages and expenses of United Travel.

She said there was no reference to a belief on Murphy’s part that he was entitled to the funds of the charity, during his Garda interviews.

Therefore, there was no evidence sufficient to put in issue the question of honest belief.

Furthermore, she said the trial judge told the jury that, while he did not think evidence of honest belief was in the case, he advised them it was a matter for them to assess as the judges of fact.

She said the Court of Appeal was satisfied that the trial judge did not err in his instructions to the jury, and was right to refuse an application to direct the return of verdicts of not guilty.

Ms Justice Kennedy, who sat with President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, said the appeal was dismissed.