Witness tells Byrne trial of ‘horror’ at alleged deed fraud

Daughter of solicitor’s one-time piano tutor testifies at trial

An alleged victim of former solicitor Thomas Byrne has described her "horror" at discovering he had transferred her family home into his name.

Mr Byrne (47), who lives at Mountjoy Square in Dublin, has pleaded not guilty to 51 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2002 and 2007. He is alleged to have forged documents to pretend he owned 12 properties belonging to clients to borrow €51.8 million from six banks.

On the third day of the trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today, Aideen Costigan told the jury that in October 2007 she discovered that Mr Byrne had transferred ownership of her family home at Bunting Road in Walkinstown, Dublin, to his name.

Ms Costigan’s husband, Paul Costigan, told the court the house was “tied up in the courts” for the following six years and that they recently sold it for less than half of what they were originally offered when Mr Byrne became involved.

READ MORE

Ms Costigan said the house was vacant after the death of her mother, Josephine O’Donnell, in May 2006. Ms O’Donnell had given Mr Byrne piano lessons when he was a teenager and had regarded him as a friend, her daughter said.

Ms Costigan said her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004 and told by doctors that she had six weeks to live. With Mr Byrne as executor, Ms O’Donnell drew up her will and left her home to her five children.

Ms O’Donnell lived for another year-and-a-half. A number of months after she died in May 2006, Mr Byrne contacted Ms Costigan and said he had a client who was interested in buying the house at Bunting Road.

The family did not wish to sell the house at that point, Ms Costigan told Remy Farrell SC, for the prosecution. However, when they later put the house on the market, a prospective buyer offered €420,000, which was higher than the figure Mr Byrne had mentioned.

Ms Costigan went back to Mr Byrne, who said his client was prepared to raise his offer to €430,000. She and her family decided to accept this offer and Mr Byrne told them the sale would be completed within four weeks. Mr Byrne never told her the buyer’s name, nor did she ask for it.

In his evidence, Mr Costigan said the family first learned Mr Byrne’s practice was “in trouble” when he heard a news report on the radio in October 2007. Concerned about the news, Ms Costigan said she then contacted the land registry and discovered to her “horror” that the house at Bunting Road had purportedly been sold to Mr Byrne on July 1st 2007 for €410,000. Shown a copy of the deed of transfer in court, Ms Costigan said the signature was not hers and she never received that sum of money. “I don’t know where I was on July 1st, but I know where I wasn’t - that was with Mr Byrne,” she said.

“I never thought Mr Byrne would do to my mother’s property what he did do,” she told the court.

Ms Costigan rejected a suggestion by defence counsel Damien Colgan that she had an agreement to allow Mr Byrne rent out the house to tenants while the transfer was being processed. She said nobody was living in the house at this time and that it contained no furniture. Mr Costigan said tenants could not have been living in the house, adding: "If somebody was living in the house, they must have been hiding in the coal-shed."

The trial continues before Judge Patrick McCartan and a jury of seven men and five women.

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is an Assistant Editor of The Irish Times