Gallagher told gardaí paintings were hotel's, court hears

Celebrity chef Conrad Gallagher, accused of stealing three paintings from the Fitzwilliam Hotel, told gardaí he knew they belonged to the hotel and he should not have sold them, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court has heard.

Celebrity chef Conrad Gallagher, accused of stealing three paintings from the Fitzwilliam Hotel, told gardaí he knew they belonged to the hotel and he should not have sold them, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court has heard.

"I realise the paintings belonged to Fitzwilliam Hotel and it was not my place to sell them. I am really sorry about the hassle I have caused and I will try to get the paintings back as soon as I leave the station," he said in a second statement to gardai after initially claiming "thugs" had taken the paintings from him.

Detective Sergeant Tom O'Dwyer told prosecuting counsel, Ms Melanie Greally BL, that Mr Gallagher made the statement after initial denials on December 7, 2000 saying that he wished to "tell the full truth about the paintings".

Det Sgt O'Dwyer was giving evidence on day three of the trial of Mr Gallagher, who denies stealing three abstract Felim Egan paintings from the Fitzwilliam Hotel on St Stephens Green on dates unknown between November 2 and November 22, 2000.

Mr Gallagher (aged 32), formerly of Killiney Hill Road, Killiney, and with an address at Pembroke Road, Ballsbridge, also pleaded not guilty to obtaining money by false pretences on November 21, 2000 at The Lodge, Killiney Hill Road with intent to defraud through getting £9,000 from Mr Bryan Greene by falsely pretending that three Felim Egan abstract paintings were his property to sell.

In the same statement to Det Sgt O'Dwyer, Mr Gallagher said he had made 'a gentlemen's agreement' with an auctioneer to hold the paintings for him in exchange for Ir£9,000 which he needed urgently in order to pay his staff.

The auctioneer, whom Mr Gallagher described as "a friend of mine", had deposited £Ir9,000 in his account the same day and he was "just about able to pay his staff", Mr Gallagher said.

He said he rang the auctioneer because he was in severe financial difficulties and had no money to pay his staff and thought he could raise the funds by selling some items in his home.

Det Sgt O'Dwyer said Mr Gallagher told him that he had taken the paintings home a few days earlier because the wall on which they were hanging at the Hotel was being plastered.

When Mr Michael Holland, owner of Ampleforth Ltd and proprietor of the Hotel, asked him about the paintings a few days later he had told him that a supplier he owed money to had taken the paintings.

He told Det Sgt O'Dwyer that he told Mr Holland this story to "buy some time to raise the money to bring the paintings back".

Mr Gallagher said Mr Holland had told him that he would call gardaí if the paintings were not returned and he had called the auctioneer and asked him if he would take his car in exchange for the paintings. The auctioneer had refused.

A short while before he made this statement to gardaí he had given another version, which Detective Sergeant Michael Fitzgerald described as "a cock and bull story".

Det Sgt Fitzgerald told Ms Greally that when Mr Holland rang him to complain about the missing paintings in November 2000 and told gardaí about his suspicions of Mr Gallagher, he rang Mr Gallagher on his mobile phone to make enquiries.

Mr Gallagher had told Det Sgt Fitzgerald that "two thugs" had taken the paintings and he was very afraid. He also told Det Sgt Fitzgerald that he was too frightened to give a description of the thugs and refused an offer of gardaí help in locating the said "thugs".

Mr Gallagher then asked Det Sgt Fitzgerald to give him a day to get the paintings back and he agreed to the request. When he rang Mr Gallagher the following day he asked the Detective for a few more days.

Det Sgt Fitzgerald said he did ring Mr Gallagher in the following few days and "it was the same story every time". On December 7, 2000, gardaí arrested him.

Det Sgt Fitzgerald said Mr Gallagher had denied during subsequent interviews that there had been an agreement between him and the auctioneer that if he were unable to buy back the paintings before December 4, 2000 they would be sold at a public auction.

He said the auctioneer had agreed to hold the paintings for him for a month and stated that selling them before that period of time had been wrong.

"I will tomorrow morning take legal action against him for selling the items before the time was up," he told Det Sgt Fitzgerald.

When asked in cross-examination by defence counsel, Mr Richard N Kean SC, if he knew Mr Gallagher had been suffering from 'bi-polar depression' at the time he was arrested and that he had Prozac pills on him, Det Sgt Fitzgerald replied that he knew Mr Gallagher was depressed.

He said Mr Gallagher told him that he also suffered from stomach ulcers and agreed that some pills, along with his mobile phone, were confiscated from him before questioning as a matter of routine.

Mr Kean said the court would hear from an independent witness that the paintings had been interfered with during a rugby weekend and Mr Gallagher had taken them down to have them made more secure.

He said the court would also hear that shortly before Mr Gallagher took the paintings home the supplier took the paintings and after several efforts managed to secure them back from the supplier and had them in his home.

Det Sgt Fitzgerald said: "He told a cock and bull story to me."

On day two of the trial the court heard from Mr Bryan Greene, the auctioneer who had bought the paintings from Mr Gallagher at his home. He said he visited Mr Gallagher's home on November 21, 2000 where he had valued several items that Mr Gallagher wanted to sell.

He said he had sold paintings for Mr Gallagher before but had not met him in person before that day. He identified several items at his home that he was interested in buying and agreed to give Mr Gallagher an advance of £9,000 for the items.

He said he asked Mr Gallagher if he owned all the items, including the paintings and he said he did. He agreed to the £9,000 advance and it was to be paid out to his company account at Bank of Ireland.

He was to return the money to the auctioneers with interest, amounting to £10,000 in total within one week. Failure to do so would mean that his items would go on public auction on December 4, 2000 and if the sale realised more than £10,000, he would be given the balance

Mr Greene said Mr Gallagher had not returned the money by December 4, 2000 and the paintings were sold at public auction on that day.

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