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Trial date set for solicitor accused of fraud despite health concerns

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A judge has followed through on a previous warning and listed a committal date to transfer the case of a solicitor accused of fraud and false accounting for trial.

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 episodes 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 rules if the case stops at that point or returned for trial.

District Judge Michael Ranaghan enquired why a PI was necessary as matters began as a Law Society investigation, then passed to the PSNI Economic Crime Unit.

The defence stated: “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 the overall position should be considered as “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”.

Multiple further adjournments followed and Downey suffered a number of additional health issues.

Last month, 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.

Judge Ranaghan however 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 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. I’ll await the consultant’s report but enough is enough.”

He warned a committal date to transfer the case to crown court would be fixed on the next occasion adding: “This has dragged on too long.” At the most recent hearing the defence explained a consultant has agreed to provide a report “in due course” and Legal Aid has been approved to cover this.

While acknowledging the court’s frustration the defence contended this applied to parties and “we are where we are with Legal Aid. My client remains very unwell.”

While accepting there are health issues in play Judge Ranaghan followed through on his previous warning and listed a committal for June 17, with a review on May 13, concluding: “This has just gone on too long. There has to be a resolution.”

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