The convicted ex-solicitor Thomas Byrne was until recently the sole director of a Dublin cafe and used a false name while running the business, The Irish Times has learned.
Former customers say Byrne ran the cafe while presenting himself as a “Sebastian Hobart” and he claimed to have returned to Dublin after working in the fashion industry in London.
Byrne (47), of Mountjoy Square in Dublin, was yesterday sentenced to 16 years in jail, with four years suspended, after a jury earlier this month found him guilty of 50 theft and fraud offences totalling €51.8 million.
Company records show Byrne, described at his trial as a waiter, was sole director of Foam Cafe Ltd, which trades on Strand Street in Dublin city centre but was incorporated in Northern Ireland in September 2011. The company's registered address was a Belfast business centre that offers "virtual offices" and business supports.
The Belfast-registered entity was dissolved in May this year, but a company with the same name and trading address was incorporated in the Republic on November 7th, the sixth day Byrne spent in the witness box. Its directors are a man who also has an address at Mountjoy Square, and another Dublin-based woman. Neither could be contacted.*
A number of former customers at Foam Cafe said Byrne introduced himself as Sebastian Hobart and described himself as a former handbag designer for the Vivienne Westwood fashion house in London. Social media accounts using the name Sebastian Hobart, which contain photos and promotional material for Foam Cafe, have been inactive for some months, and there was no reply to emails to his address last week.
When contacted by The Irish Times, a woman who introduced herself as the manager of Foam Cafe said there was no one by the name of Sebastian at the cafe. She then said he no longer worked there but declined to comment further.
Telephoned a second time yesterday and asked if she could confirm that Sebastian Hobart was a name Thomas Byrne used when dealing with customers at the cafe, she replied: “I’m not prepared to discuss this at all.”
In 2011, a man who introduced himself as Sebastian Hobart was interviewed for a lifestyle feature in The Irish Times. He described himself at the time as the owner of Foam Cafe.
One woman who works locally said she was "completely gobsmacked" when she saw Byrne's photograph in the media during his trial. She said Byrne was the same person who introduced himself as Sebastian Hobart when she organised an event in the cafe in March 2011.
“We arranged to have our event there one night, and we had a big chat with him,” she said. “He told us he had worked as a handbag designer for Vivienne Westwood and that he had come home . . . He gave me a business card with the name Sebastian Hobart. We said, ‘Is this place yours?’ and he said yes,” said Anne, who asked not to be identified.
A local business owner said she regularly saw Byrne in the cafe but that when staff were asked who owned it, “they came up with this name, Sebastian Hobart”. She added: “Thomas Byrne always gave the impression that he was the owner . . . I never saw someone called Sebastian.”
* This article was amended on December 3rd, 2013.