Lawyers for Thomas 'Slab' Murphy challenge sentence at Court of Appeal
Prominent republican Thomas “Slab” Murphy was found guilty of evading tax his brother had already paid, his lawyers have submitted to the Court of Appeal
The 67-year-old, whose farm at Ballybinaby, Hackballscross, Co Louth, straddles the border with Northern Ireland, had pleaded not (NOT) guilty at the non-jury Special Criminal Court to nine charges of failing to comply with tax laws in the Irish Republic for the years 1996/97 to 2004.
The three-judge Special Criminal Court found Murphy guilty on all counts and he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment on February 26 last.
Opening an appeal against conviction today/yesterday(TUESDAY), Murphy's barrister, John Kearney QC, told the three-judge court that “all the tax” Murphy was found guilty of evading “was paid” by his brother Patrick Murphy.
He said it was “staggering” that the authorities came after Thomas Murphy for tax his brother Patrick had paid.
Murphy's brother was “around every corner, he's under every stone. He's constantly in this case,” Mr Kearney said.
Patrick Murphy had “wrongly” applied for more income by increasing the number of herds he had so as to increase his “take on the grant”, Mr Kearney said.
The defence's case from day one was that the farm payments were for a single farm with three herds. “Extra herds, extra money,” Mr Kearney said.
He said the Special Criminal Court's 10-page verdict was “inadequatly brief” for a 32 day trial in a "document-heavy circumstantial case".
He said the non-jury court erred in dealing with this as a straightforward case narrowing down to a number of core issues.
Mr Kearney said the Special Criminal Court stated in its verdict that there were a number of documents an expert found to have been signed by Murphy but there was no such evidence.
For the court to short circuit that evidence into this possible finding of fact was “astounding”, counsel said.
The expert did not say he saw Tom Murphy sign the form. He did not say he saw him on the farm nor did he speak to him. Mr Kearney said this erroneous finding of fact infected the court's verdict.
Furthermore, there was a “shed-load” of exculpatory documents but not a mention of them in the verdict. The discarding of that evidence by the court undermined the verdict, Mr Kearney submitted.
Murphy has appealed his conviction on 48 grounds in seven core areas. These are: The question of independence, the admission of a statement under provisions known as 'section 16', whether statutory presumptions, documentary presumptions and circumstantial presumptions – such as reasonable doubt and viable inference - were engaged by the court, specific “defects” in the direction, specific “defects” in the verdict and the alleged failure to provide adequate reasons in determining these issues.
The hearing is expected to last three days before President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Seán Ryan, Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice John Edwards.
Last December, following a 32-day trial, Murphy was found guilty of nine charges of failing to furnish a return of his income, profits or gains or the source of his income, profits or gains to the Collector General or the Inspector of Taxes for the years 1996/97 to 2004.
The court had heard evidence that the Cab's assessment of Murphy's tax bill is worth 5,344,157 Euro and that from farming income, the issue for which Murphy was tried before the court, he owes 189,964 Euro.
The estimated loss to Revenue is based on the "notional figure" of 15,000 Euro or 15,000 Irish Pounds per year profit from Murphy's farming business, the court had heard.
During the trial, the court heard evidence that, although Murphy conducted dealings in relation to cattle and land, and received farming grants from the Department of Agriculture, he failed to make any returns to revenue.
From 1996 to 2004, he received grants from the Department of Agriculture totalling over 100,000 Euro. The payments were made for farming grant schemes including the Slaughter Premium Scheme, the Special Beef Premium and EU Area Aid.
The court also heard of a search carried out by the Cab in March 2006 in an outhouse on the border with Northern Ireland, when investigators seized a large volume of documents and ledgers, cash worth 256,235 Euro and 111,185 Pounds Sterling, as well as uncashed cheques worth 579,000 Euro, 80,000 Pounds Sterling and 24,000 Irish Pounds.
Evidence from livestock mart managers was that Murphy purchased cattle with a total value of over 500,000 Euro. Meat factory managers told the court that he sold cattle with a total value of over 200,000 Euro.
The court also heard evidence of a bank account opened in Murphy's name which, at the judgement hearing last December, Mr Justice Butler said was “operated by [Murphy] to his benefit”.
Murphy's defence lawyers had claimed that his brother, Patrick, was in control of the farming activities and was therefore the chargeable person. A chargeable person is a person who is chargeable to tax on income.
Passing sentence at the non-jury Special Criminal Court in February, presiding judge Mr Justice Paul Butler said the court's decision was not influenced by the publicity surrounding the trial.
Mr Justice Butler said that, during the trial, “some commentary referred to other unconnected matters” and that the court was "aware of the publicity”.
“It has no bearing on the revenue charges brought against [Murphy},” the judge said, adding that the court was "in no way influenced" by the publicity.
The court tried Murphy as a “farmer and cattle dealer,” the judge said.
After sentencing, in a statement issued via his solicitor, Murphy had said he maintains his innocence and had instructed his legal team to "pursue an appeal immediately".