Disputed will | 

Taxi driver befriended then controlled pensioner to try to take his home, judge says

Seamus Conroy was not in court to hear Judge O’Connor refuse judicial recognition of Joe Kavanagh's disputed will
Seamus Conroy speaks to our man Eamon Dillon.

Seamus Conroy speaks to our man Eamon Dillon.

Ray Managh

A taxi driver abused the friendship of an innocent, vulnerable old man he picked up on a Dublin street, eventually took control of his finances and tried to acquire his €275,000 home and its contents through a disputed home-made will, a judge said today.

Judge John O’Connor said that while “unconscionable conduct” was a more appropriate description of Seamus Conroy’s behaviour than civil fraud, the 67-year-old taxi driver had nevertheless befriended, dominated and controlled Joe Kavanagh and his finances until he had died at the age of 85 when Mr Conroy tried to win the vulnerable pensioner’s home for himself.

Mr Conroy, a shared Lotto winner and former photographer with the Irish Press, with an address at Beatty Grove, Celbridge, Co Kildare, was not in court to hear Judge O’Connor refuse judicial recognition of the disputed will.

The taxi driver and part-time property developer had earlier shed tears in court as he outlined “a bond” that had developed between him and Mr Kavanagh whom he drove to and from the sick-bed of his wife Frances in St Mary’s Care Hospital, Phoenix Park.

Judge O’Connor told barrister Rory de Bruir, who appeared for Mr Kavanagh’s solicitor Cormac O’Ceallaigh, that Mr Conroy’s home-made will was not valid under the 1965 Succession Act and, even if it was, the whole domination and control by Mr Conroy over Mr Kavanagh gave rise to a presumption of undue influence.

“Mr Conroy retained control of the document after it was executed and Mr Kavanagh never received any independent legal advice,” the judge said.

He said Mr Kavanagh was a much weaker person who was totally dependent on Mr Conroy and the relationship and the making of the alleged will was not one consistent with good conscience.

Joe Kavanagh’s home in Stoneybatter.

Joe Kavanagh’s home in Stoneybatter.

“Far from being a good friend, the relationship was one in which Mr Conroy ensured Mr Kavanagh was reliant on him to the exclusion of other people,” Judge O’Connor said.

“He was determined to and did take control of Mr Kavanagh’s money and attempted to take control of his dwelling house at Swords Street, Oxmanstown Road, Stoneybatter, Dublin.

Judge O’Connor said Mr Conroy, in legal terms, had taken advantage of an innocent and vulnerable person who had been unable to make a worthwhile judgment of what was in his best interests.

“The tragedy is that no one reported Mr Conroy’s conduct to the HSE which is charged with safeguarding vulnerable persons at risk of abuse. The matter does not appear to be investigated by the HSE,” the judge said.

Judge O’Connor said Mr Conroy controlled both the process and the retention of the home-made will until after Mr Kavanagh’s death and for these reasons the court dismissed Mr Conroy’s claim to admit the will to probate thereby establishing its validity.

Seamus Conroy, ex taxi driver, who is in dispute over a home made will made by Joseph Kavanagh.

Seamus Conroy, ex taxi driver, who is in dispute over a home made will made by Joseph Kavanagh.

The court also refused Mr Conroy’s application to revoke an earlier valid will made by Mr Kavanagh through his solicitors Cormac O’Ceallaigh.

During the trial of the legal dispute Mr Conroy said he had been waved down by Mr Kavanagh on the North Circular Road, Dublin, and afterwards had made a deal to bring him daily to and from the hospital for €30 a day, payable in weekly amounts of €210. The understanding had lasted for several years until Mr Kavanagh’s death.

In his earlier valid will Mr Kavanagh had bequeathed 60pc of his net estate to charities and divided the remainder between two nieces. Money was to go for the upkeep of priests and church buildings, parish funds, the Legion of Mary Concillium and St Peter’s church, Phibsborough, Dublin.

Mr O’Ceallaigh told the court that when Mr Kavanagh’s home had been put on the market as per the original will, a purchaser paid a deposit of €7,000. Swain Solicitors on behalf of Mr Conroy had written to O’Ceallaigh indicating they were in possession of a final will appointing Mr Conroy as executor and that no further steps be taken in connection with the sale.

Judge O’Connor said the charities mentioned in the original will should be apprised of the legal proceedings and rulings of the court.

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