Sex offender transferred assets to wife to avoid paying victim

Michael Byrne engaged in ‘fraudulent’ bid to shirk €200,000 damages award, court finds

Former brass band leader and convicted sex offender Michael Byrne pictured leaving the Four Courts in 2015. Photograph: Courts Collins

Former brass band leader and convicted sex offender Michael Byrne pictured leaving the Four Courts in 2015. Photograph: Courts Collins

 

Two asset transfers by a convicted sex offender to his now estranged wife have been set aside by the High Court on grounds they were a “fraudulent” attempt to prevent his victim satisfying a €200,000 damages award.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan ruled two transfers between retired teacher and former brass band leader Michael Byrne and his wife Maureen Byrne were “fraudulent” and “deliberate and expressly done” to “defy, deny and hinder” Cormac Walsh from recovering damages against Mr Byrne.

The transfers involved Mr Byrne signing over his interest in the former family home and lands at Rosewell, Templerainey, Arklow, Co Wicklow to Mrs Byrne.

The High Court had in 2015 awarded Mr Walsh €200,000 aggravated damages, plus his legal costs, against Michael Byrne for injuries he suffered as a result of being abused by Mr Byrne.

Michael Byrne, aged in his eighties and living in Spain, was convicted in 2014 and jailed for eight years, with four suspended, after admitting four sample counts of indecent assault on Mr Walsh, then aged between 11 and 15 years, on dates between 1975 and 1978.

On Thursday, Turlough O’Donnell SC, instructed by solicitor Deidre Burke, for Mr Walsh, said his client had got no payment from Michael Byrne since the judgment was made.

Counsel said the first of the disputed transfers took place in May 2012, some two years after Mr Byrne became aware of the civil action against him. The second occurred in October 2015 after the High Court award, he said.

Joint name

Mr O’Donnell said the property at issue had been in the joint name of Mr and Mrs Byrne but, following the transfers, was all in her sole name.

Mr Walsh contended the transfers were fraudulent and were attempts to ensure his client could not satisfy his judgment.

Neither of the Byrnes were present or represented in court during the hearing.

In a sworn statement opposing the application, Michael Byrne said the transfers were made in “good faith” and the claims they were fraudulent were “untrue”. Setting aside the transfers would be “unfair”, he said.

He said the 2012 transfer was considered “good housekeeping” when he was sorting out his affairs and executing the wills of himself and his wife.

He said his wife had invested in the property after they were married, she had paid money to clear his debts and had also paid the legal costs of his actions.

Following his conviction in 2014, the couple had split up and and had little contact with each other since, he said.

The second transfer, which involved the driveway to their home, occurred after his wife contacted him, he said. He said she had been advised there may be insurance issues about the driveway and he had agreed with her it made sense to transfer it to her.

Having considered the evidence, Mr Justice Gilligan said he would set aside both transfers.

He said the transfers were done with the aim of frustrating Mr Walsh satisfying the judgment and noted Mr Walsh had not received “a singe euro” from Mr Byrne.

The judge was satisfied Mr Byrne was aware a civil action was pending against him and he could be facing a damages award when the first transfer was made in 2012.

The situation was “abundantly clear” when the second transfer was made months after the High Court made the award, he added. He was further satisfied both defendants were aware, and had been served notice of, these proceedings.