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'Wheels came off': Head of State corporate watchdog says lessons learned after failures in Anglo trial

Ian Drennan was addressing the Oireachtas Business committee this evening.

Image: Oireachtas TV

THE HEAD OF the State’s corporate watchdog has told an Oireachtas Committee “the wheels came off” of his office’s probe into former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Sean Fitzpatrick.

Ian Drennan said today that its investigation into Fitzpatrick and the loans at the bank “went wrong in a catastrophic way”.

In May 2017, the judge in the trial of the former Anglo chairman had said that he would be directing the jury to acquit Fitzpatrick due to “alarming flaws in the prosecution”.

Fitzpatrick had been on trial accused of a number of offences and the trial had been ongoing for 126 days before it was struck out of court, and he was acquitted on all charges.

Among these flaws identified by Judge John Aylmer were the coaching of witnesses and the cross-contamination between witness statements. The flaws were such that he felt FitzPatrick would be denied his right a fair trial.

The Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) carried out the investigation into FitzPatrick and Judge Aylmer was critical of its conduct.

In the wake of the trial, Minister Simon Harris said the government couldn’t express confidence in the ODCE.

Harris acknowledged the role of the state in the collapsed trial, but said that as far as he knew, the ODCE had told the government that they had adequate resources.

The question is how does the ODCE interact with the courts, and with the Director of Public Prosecutions. I cannot, and the government cannot, express confidence in this office.

The ODCE’s Drennan was addressing the Oireachtas Business Committee on proposals from the government to establish the ODCE as a stand-alone agency, in order to strengthen the regulatory framework with which Ireland can tackle white-collar crime. 

He said today that the failures made his office in relation to the Fitzpatrick trial were “fully acknowledged” and that “valuable lessons” had been learned, adding that the blame for the trial’s collapse did not lie solely with the ODCE.

He also said that the scale of the wider probe into Anglo was “completely unprecedented”, and the ODCE wasn’t equipped to deal with it.

Nevertheless, Drennan also defended the ODCE’s conduct and said that four out of five of its Anglo probes resulted in convictions. 

“Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “Five separate strands of investigation, and each on their own was enormous… things go wrong and unfortunately in this case things went wrong in a catastrophic way. Things went wrong.”

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Sean Murray

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