Ex-assistant to Byrne tells court of how he forged her signature
Solicitor says she felt ‘threatened and scared’ and reported discovery to Law Society
Witness Barbara Cooney leaving Dublin Circuit Criminal Court yesterday after giving evidence in the trial of Thomas Byrne. Photograph: Collins
The theft and fraud trial of Thomas Byrne has heard of the day “everything went horribly wrong” for the former solicitor when one of his employees reported him to the authorities.
Barbara Cooney was an assistant solicitor in Mr Byrne’s Walkinstown firm when she allegedly discovered that he had forged her signature on a document relating to a €4.5 million loan from Irish Nationwide Building Society.
Ms Cooney told the court that she felt threatened and scared while in the office after making the discovery. She said Mr Byrne and his business partner John Kelly both pleaded with her not to go to the Law Society about the forged signature and that Mr Kelly told her that Mr Byrne was suicidal and an alcoholic.
Later that day she went to the Law Society, which moved in and shut down the accused’s practice early the following week.
Mr Byrne (47), of Walkinstown Road, Crumlin, is accused of theft and fraud offences totalling €51.8 million. The charges allege he transferred clients’ homes into his name and used them as collateral for loans.
He has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 51 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004 and 2007.
Ms Cooney told defence counsel Damien Colgan SC that she knew her employer had forged her signature on a previous occasion as part of a loan application to EBS.
When she discovered the forgery, Mr Byrne claimed he did it as “a matter of expediency”. He said he needed her signature because he was the borrower and needed a third-party solicitor’s name on the document.
Mr Byrne told her he had been stupid, was under a lot of pressure and wasn’t thinking straight. The firm’s office manager assured Ms Cooney that he had never done anything similar before.
Ms Cooney agreed with Mr Colgan that she remained with Mr Byrne’s company until “the day it all went horribly wrong” on October 18th, 2007.
It was then that she received a call from Irish Nationwide Building Society referring to a solicitor’s undertaking she signed stating that she would register several properties which were being used by Mr Byrne as collateral.
She said the society faxed over the undertaking and she saw that the signature on it was not hers. She went to speak to Thomas Byrne’s accountant, Gerry Cahill, and a short time later Mr Byrne and Mr Kelly came into the office.
She said that Mr Kelly sent Mr Byrne out of the office before trying to persuade her not to go to the Law Society about the forged signature. Mr Kelly told her that the accused was an alcoholic and had tried to take his own life.
Ms Cooney wept in the witness box as she described feeling threatened “by everything that was going on”. She said she was afraid “but couldn’t say why I was afraid”.
The trial continues before Judge Patrick McCartan and a jury of seven men and five women.