Fraud conviction against Galway councillor quashed

A conviction against Galway County Councillor Michael Fahy for obtaining €7,000 from the local authority by false pretences was quashed by the Court of Criminal Appeal earlier this week.

Cllr Fahy (60 ) of Cahir Duff, Ardrahan, had been sentenced to one year in December 2008 after a Galway Circuit Criminal Court jury found him guilty of obtaining €7,000 by false pretences from Galway County Council in 2002. He has denied the charges of misappropriating funds in relation to the erection of fencing on his land in Ardrahan during a road-widening community involvement scheme approved by the council.

On Tuesday a three-judge court determined that the conviction was unsafe with presiding judge Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman describing it as a tangled case which is full of unusual features and that the court was left with the impression that witnesses were reluctant to discuss in detail matters about which they knew a great deal. Mr Justice Hardiman said it was clear that a key prosecution witness had given evidence which was at odds with the charge against Cllr Fahy as laid out in the indictment. He said the witness claimed the councillor issued him with an invoice for €7,000, the cost of which would be covered by council funds using an instrument known as a Notice of Motion. Mr Justice Hardiman said that the charge against Cllr Fahy, as laid out in the indictment, referred to obtaining by false pretences €7,000 from a fund for roads known as a community involvement scheme. He added that the evidence before the court was different from the case made by the State and that a charge of false representation must pertain to an existing state of fact and, as the court could not safely conclude this was so, it would overturn the councillor’s conviction. No retrial has been ordered.

Counsel for the applicant, Mr Bernard Mahon SC, told the court that the trial judge during the case heard in December 2008 had erred in principle by failing to withdraw the matter from the jury on the basis that the prosecution had not proved an essential element of the case. He said the indictment charged his client with falsely obtaining €7,000 for works carried out under the community involvement scheme in 2002 and that the State had failed to prove that such a scheme existed at the time and did not prove that the required statutory instruments had been employed to establish the scheme.

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