Former solicitor Thomas Byrne broke down in tears as he thanked his past clients and alleged victims for the “fair evidence” they gave in his trial and for “not going to town on me”.
On his third day of cross-examination during his €52m theft and fraud trial, Mr Byrne agreed with prosecuting counsel Remy Farrell SC, that it was “a striking feature” of his evidence that he “spoke with genuine affection” for his former clients.
Mr Byrne said he couldn’t comment on a suggestion from counsel that they seemed to have “a residual affection for you” before starting to cry in the witness box.
“I was very much struck by the way all of my clients gave their evidence,” he said.
Mr Byrne refused to accept a suggestion that these people had all turned on him and hung him out to dry.
“No, they gave evidence because they had to. None of them went to town on their evidence and they were very fair,” he replied.
Mr Byrne (aged 47) of Walkinstown Road, Crumlin is accused of theft and fraud offences totalling €51.8m. The charges allege he transferred clients’ homes into his name and then used them as collateral for property loans.
He has pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 50 counts of theft, forgery, using forged documents and deception between 2004 and 2007.
Mr Byrne did not accept a suggestion from Mr Farrell that on his account each of his clients had, “independently of each other”, come up with a scam of going to the Law Society and telling them “a pack of lies” in order to get the deeds of transfer for their properties returned to them.
“Collectively what they have in common is that they were all caught in the cross fire when my practice closed. It is not a scam. I will refuse to say it, because that is not my opinion,” Mr Byrne told the jury.
“I understand why they gave evidence that is contradicting to mine. I respect them deeply, notwithstanding that we are at variance. I will not suggest that they were involved in a scam.”
He said he had purchased many properties since 2000 and those involved “always got paid” before he emphasised that it had always been his intention to pay his former clients.
“The only people who didn’t get paid are those before the court because my practice was shut down,” Mr Byrne said.
“It was musical chairs with you and they got caught when the music stopped,” Mr Farrell replied.
Counsel asked why he wasn't angry that all these people were "swearing a hole through a bucket and trying to land him in jail".
Mr Byrne said he had a lot to be angry about but had a kind of stoicism which might be unusual.
Mr Farrell told Mr Byrne that he was going to “give him an opportunity” and said: “Do you want to persist with you story that makes perjurers of all these people that you have regard for?”
“I deeply regret being here, but the reality is that I got into the witness box to tell the truth and that is what I have been doing and I don’t intend to stop telling the truth, I can’t go further than that,” Mr Byrne replied.
He acknowledged that there was not “a single jot of paper, not a yellow post-it” that documented what counsel termed “an extraordinary and unorthodox agreement” between him and his clients in relation to transferring their homes to him on the understanding that he would give them the agreed funds at a later date.
“This is very unfortunate given where you are now,” Mr Farrell suggested.
“Yes extremely,” Mr Byrne replied.
He said it was his evidence that files existed in relation to each of the alleged victims but said he didn’t know where these files are now.
Counsel asked why he didn’t go looking for these files and suggested they would have assisted in proving his innocence.
“All I can say is that I that I have given evidence that there would have been files. I don’t know where they are,” Mr Byrne replied.
“Do you agree that you are unfortunate given the untruths from your clients about you, unfortunate given the evidence others have given against you, unfortunate that there is not a single scrap of paper to prove these agreements with your clients and unfortunate that these files don’t seem to be in existence?” counsel asked before he added: “Are you an unfortunate man?”
“I certainly am,” replied Mr Byrne.
The trial continues before Judge Patrick McCartan and a jury of seven men and five women.