Court dismisses ‘Slab’ Murphy’s appeal against tax conviction
Lawyers for prominent republican tell court he had ‘nothing to do with cattle farming’
Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy was convicted for evading tax on profits from farming. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
The Court of Appeal has dismissed prominent republican Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy’s appeal against conviction for evading tax on profits from farming.
Lawyers for the 67-year-old, whose farm at Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, straddles the border with Northern Ireland, had told the Court of Appeal that Murphy had “nothing to do with cattle farming” and that the authorities “went after” Thomas Murphy for tax his brother, Patrick, had already paid.
Murphy had pleaded not guilty at the non-jury Special Criminal Court to nine charges of failing to comply with tax laws in the Republic for the years 1996/97 to 2004.
The three-judge Special Criminal Court found Murphy guilty on all counts and he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment on February 26 last.
Murphy brought an appeal against his conviction last November. However, having considered the matter “carefully” and “thoroughly”, President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan said the court had concluded that the appeal be dismissed on all grounds.
In a 94-page judgment on Monday, Mr Justice Ryan said the written submissions in the appeal were “daunting” extending to over 350 pages. He said some of Murphy’s 53 grounds of appeal were general and “repetitious”.
Mr Justice Ryan said the appeal was not a “reconsideration of the entire trial”. Rather, the Court of Appeal approached the case on the basis of asking whether the Special Criminal Court was entitled to come to the conclusions it did and find Thomas Murphy guilty; Whether the defence established reasonable doubt generally or on any of the elements that the prosecution relied on; And whether the judgment of the Special Criminal Court was a satisfactory one which complied with obligations to explain its reasoning.
Mr Justice Ryan said the evidence included: A herd number registered to Thomas Murphy; Evidence from a vet of Murphy’s involvement in cattle farming; Evidence that a farmer rented land to Thomas Murphy “for cattle farming”; Sales and purchases of cattle in relation to the herd; A bank account in Thomas Murphy’s name; Payment orders by the Paymaster General in respect of the herd made payable to Thomas Murphy lodged into the Thomas Murphy bank account; Evidence from an accountant in the Criminal Assets Bureau in respect of books and records showing Thomas Murphy’s involvement in a farming business and evidence from an Inspector of Taxes that Thomas Murphy was a chargeable person and that he had not made returns.
The prosecution submitted that the case was a “straightforward one”, Mr Justice Ryan said, that it was not disputed that a substantial cattle trade was carried out in the name of Thomas Murphy; that monies generated from that trade went into a bank account in Thomas Murphy’s name and that a pension policy “personally incepted by him” was funded from that bank account.
Ultimately the case came down to whether or not the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Thomas Murphy was a chargeable person in respect of that trade, Mr Justice Ryan said.
The defence case was that “forgery was afoot” — that documents in Thomas Murphy’s name were created by others, particularly, his brother, Patrick Murphy.
Counsel for Murphy, John Kearney QC, submitted that the trial court had to have reasonable doubt because of the documentary material they put forward and their “hypothesis” which placed Patrick Murphy as the “mastermind behind the entire affair”.
Much of that was based on the evidence of a defence handwriting expert whose evidence in respect of certain documents “actually tends to confirm the prosecution evidence and the presumptions,” Mr Justice Ryan said.
The defence submissions contained a “serious misunderstanding” of the effect of his evidence, Mr Justice Ryan said. It was “mistaken” to say his opinion mandated a finding of reasonable doubt in respect of certain documents.
Taking the hand-writing expert’s evidence at face value, he established that a number of documents purportedly signed by Thomas Murphy were not signed by him. However, “that is just what the Special Criminal Court said in its jugdment”.
His evidence alone was insufficient to raise a reasonable doubt as to the authenticity of all the documents on which the prosecution relied to make its case. His testimony was restricted to a “limited number of documents”. It “validated some” and “expressed neutrality about a large number of others”.
It was worth noting that the defence hand-writing expert was of the opinion that “on the balance of probabilities” the signature on the application for a herd number was that of Thomas Murphy, Mr Justice Ryan said.
The evidence of the operation of the bank account, as accepted by the Special Criminal Court, was evidence that Thomas Murphy was a chargeable person, Mr Justice Ryan said. The Court noted that the defence hand-writing expert did not give evidence questioning the authenticity of those signatures.
Furthermore, Mr Justice Ryan said there was no basis for contending that the trial court did not give reasons for its verdict.
He said the Special Criminal Court’s verdict reflected the “fundamental simplicity of the issue before the court in regard to the counts on the indictment, the strength of the prosecution case and the essentially hypothetical nature of the defence”.
The particular criticism of the brevity of the court’s judgment “perhaps is that the court did not engage in a detailed analysis of the hand-writing evidence on which the defence based so much of its case”.
However, that evidence, as already mentioned, “fall far short of undermining the prosecution case”.
Mr Justice Ryan, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court accordingly dismissed the appeal on all grounds.
Murphy’s barrister, Tony McGillicuddy BL, asked the court for time to allow instructions be taken to see whether an appeal against sentence was being pursued.
The matter was listed for mention on Monday next.