Couple ordered to repay €280,000 loan after claiming it was a gift

High Court says the pair must also pay interest and legal costs to their former friend

 John and Jacqueline  Keenaghan leaving the Four Courts last November. File photograph: Collins Courts

John and Jacqueline Keenaghan leaving the Four Courts last November. File photograph: Collins Courts

 

A couple found to have accepted a “loan” rather than a “gift” of €280,000 from a former friend must repay that sum immediately, plus interest, a High Court judge has ruled.

Fidelma “Della” Kerrigan is also entitled to the legal costs of the eight-day case brought by her against Jacqueline and John Keenaghan, Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy said. Those costs are expected to be a six-figure sum.

Outside court, Della Kerrigan said she was “glad it was all over”, but “deeply disappointed” her friends had betrayed her.

Ms Kerrigan gave the €280,000 to the Keenaghans in August 2010 out of a €750,000 compensation award made to her two weeks earlier for serious injuries suffered by her in a road accident in which her father died. She is now on social protection payments.

Gullible

Earlier this month, Ms Justice Murphy ruled the €280,000 given by the “gullible and naive” Ms Kerrigan was a loan sought by Ms Keenaghan with no specified repayment date.

She rejected arguments by the Keenaghans that the money was an unsolicited “gift”.

The “real tragedy” in the case stemmed from the Keenaghans’ reaction when Ms Kerrigan sought repayment of the loan in 2014, the judge said.

She accepted evidence of Della Kerrigan and her sister Celine that, in the months leading up to the settlement, Jacqueline Keenaghan, whose  husband’s business was in serious difficulty due to the recession and who was very friendly with the sisters, broached the possibility of Della helping her out of the settlement proceeds, and assured Della she would pay back “every penny”.

Ms Kerrigan had agreed in principle to help out her “dear friend”, the judge said.

Breach of trust

Ms Keenaghan’s denial of the “true circumstances” of the loan ruptured this friendship, and the Kerrigans saw the denial for what it was – an “enormous breach of trust”, the judge said.

She was confident any reasonable repayment proposal from the couple would have found favour with Ms Kerrigan, even if spread over “many, many years”.

Even if she had found the €280,000 was a gift, she would have set that aside as an “improvident transaction” on foot of which the defendants had been “unjustly enriched”, she added.

The Keenaghans, she noted, had paid off all their debts, financed their children’s education, retrained as counsellors and psychotherapists and opened a new business.

When the case returned for final orders today, the judge granted judgment for the €280,000, plus interest at 8 per cent from 2014, when Ms Kerrigan first sought repayment.

She also awarded costs of the entire hearing to Ms Kerrigan after rejecting a plea from Desmond Murphy SC, for the Keenaghans, for “some little mercy” and to award costs of six rather than eight days.

She refused to put a stay on her orders pending consideration by the Keenaghans on whether to bring any appeal.