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‘Enough is enough’ – judge rules on case of solicitor accused of theft and fraud

“My client has of course, been an officer of the court and deserves to be treated accordingly” - Defence

A judge has ruled the case of a solicitor accused of fraud and false accounting must proceed after numerous adjournments due to his ill-health.

Paul Downey (65) of Mount Royal, Banbridge faces nine counts of fraud by abuse of position, four of false accounting and a single count of theft.

Offending allegedly occurred between July 2013 and June 2014.

Downey is accused of stealing £73,844 from the estate of a deceased client as well as writing cheques to himself and falsely recording the payee was a relative of the deceased.

It is further alleged he transferred funds from the estate held in the client account to his company account without the authority of the executors or the Law Society.

Downey also allegedly falsified a ledger by creating false invoices for work carried out for two male clients.

The case has been listed for committal to crown court on numerous occasions since 2019, but repeatedly adjourned by the defence as Downey has suffered bouts of serious illness.

Last year a defence barrister told Dungannon Magistrates’ Court a Preliminary Investigation (PI) would be required, whereby disputed prosecution evidence is challenged at a hearing, after which a judge will rule if the matter is stopped at that point, or there is a case to answer.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom to hold these hearings, which have long-since been abolished everywhere else.

During a review hearing over a year ago, District Judge Michael Ranaghan enquired: “Why is a PI required?  I understood this began as a Law Society investigation, who then passed to the PSNI Economic Crime Unit.”

The defence stressed: “This has to be placed in context and the difficulty in obtaining accurate and reliable instructions. My client has, of course, been an officer of the court throughout his career, and deserves to be treated accordingly.”

Judge Ranaghan replied: “I accept your client was an officer of the court, but everyone deserves equal treatment under the law, whatever their previous profession.”

The defence advised information on Downey’s medical issues were to be  passed to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), “to consider the overall position. It’s not just as straightforward as what appears on the file. Faced with this medical situation and the fact my client has served as an officer of the court for over 30 years, I have to be very cautious”.

On that occasion the judge agreed to another adjournment. Multiple more followed and Downey suffered a number of additional health issues.

At the most recent sitting, almost a year since the previous exchange,  the defence insisted further medical reports are awaited as two appointments with a consultant were postponed, although it was unclear why.

However Judge Ranaghan drew a line on any further delay, stating: “I’ve been repeatedly reviewing this case. I appreciate there are very significant health issues and effectively you are asking the PPS to review the decision to prosecute, which they no longer do unless in exceptional cases.”

He continued: “The court’s patience has to run out eventually. I’ll await the consultant’s report but enough is enough. This matter has dragged on too long.”

The case was adjourned until March 25 when Judge Ranaghan ruled a committal date will be fixed.

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