Man sentenced and fined for role in forging will of distant relative

A man has been sentenced to six years in jail, with three suspended, and fined €500,000 for his part in forging the will of a…

A man has been sentenced to six years in jail, with three suspended, and fined €500,000 for his part in forging the will of a wealthy Wexford farmer.

Noel Hayes (59), Ramsgrange, Co Wexford, received the sentence yesterday at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court.

His former business partner Willie O’Leary (49), Kilhile, Arthurstown, received a three-year sentence suspended for 18 months and a €200,000 fine for forging Matthew Hayes’s will in December 1998, at about the time of his death.

Both men walked free pending an appeal.

The court heard the estate of Matthew Hayes (82), Clonlard, Duncannon, was worth €1.7 million in today’s value, taking interest into account.

A jury unanimously convicted both of forgery earlier this month. The trial heard that Mr Hayes died on Christmas Day 1998. In a document purporting to be his final will and testament, he left his entire estate of 140 acres and money in various accounts of Noel Hayes, who was a relative.

During the nine-day trial in January, the court heard evidence from Mr O’Leary’s brother Charlie, who turned whistleblower after admitting his part in the forgery of the will.

Witness to signing

In court yesterday Det Garda Sgt Mick Troy said a plan evolved to forge a will in late 1998. O’Leary acted as a witness to the signing of the will by Hayes.

The court heard how Hayes inherited all of the estate of Matthew Hayes. The combined value of the estate was £466,111.84, which would have a value of over €1,700,000 today.

Det Sgt Troy said Matthew Hayes was predeceased by a number of close relatives.

Philip Sheahan, prosecuting, said one of the motivating features for the crime was the view that one of Noel Hayes’s predecessors had wrongly been put off the land and that his family were the rightful heirs.

Det Sgt Troy said Matthew Hayes had a number of relatives to the nearest degree of second cousin, saying these would be equal beneficiaries.

Det Sgt Troy described both men as hard working. He said Hayes was a director of South East Vegetables and O’Leary ran O’Leary International transport company.

Louise Drought described her stepfather Noel Hayes as a caring man who always encouraged her and supported her.

Accountant John Harding spoke of the vital role O’Leary played in his company, which employs a large number of people in south Wexford, while businessman Denis O’Flaherty spoke of his business partnership with O’Leary running Celtic Link ferries. “I have severe doubts as to whether it could continue or not without Willie’s expertise ,” he said.

Michael O’Higgins SC, for O’Leary, said his client had huge responsibilities.

He told the judge that O’Leary could be punished in a multitude of ways which did not involve imprisonment. “This is an old event; life has moved on since 1998,” he said.

Forgery Act

Judge Raymond Fullam said the maximum penalty for an offence under the Forgery Act was life in prison.

He said Hayes had sought the help of the O’Leary brothers as he believed Matthew Hayes’s land should have been his “by right”.