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Former solicitor accused of stealing £73,000 from estate of deceased client to face trial

After numerous delays a former solicitor has been returned for trial on fraud and false accounting charges, almost 10 years after the offences allegedly began.

The case relates to Paul Downey (65) of Mount Royal, Banbridge who 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 as 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 clients.

Having been listed for committal to crown court on numerous occasions since 2019 at Dungannon Magistrates’ Court, the case was repeatedly adjourned by the defence as Downey suffered bouts of serious illness.

Last year a defence barrister said a Preliminary Investigation (PI) would be required as opposed to a straightforward committal, whereby disputed prosecution evidence is challenged at a hearing, after which a judge rules if the case stops at that point or returned for trial.

District Judge Michael Ranaghan enquired why this was necessary as matters began as a Law Society investigation, 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 he was an officer of the court, but everyone deserves equal treatment under the law, whatever their previous profession.”

The defence responded” “It’s not as straightforward as it appears. Faced with medical issues and the fact my client served as an officer of the court for over 30 years, I must be very cautious.”

Over a year after that exchange and amid numerous adjournments, Judge Ranaghan however stated: “I’ve been repeatedly reviewing this case. I appreciate there are very significant health issues and effectively the defence are asking the PPS to review the decision to prosecute, which they no longer do unless in exceptional cases. The court’s patience has to run out eventually. Enough is enough. This has dragged on too long.”

On the next occasion in May, the defence again pointed to the necessity for a PI to which Judge Ranaghan remarked, “You are aware of my attitude to that. I’ll say no more as there’s no point.”

But this position was abandoned today (Friday) when Downey appeared in court and did not object to the proceedings, call witnesses or give evidence on his own behalf.

He was remanded on bail to appear for arraignment at Newry Crown Court next month.

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