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contempt Derry solicitor jailed for for lying in court during divorce case against ex-wife

Brian Stelfox was once one of Derry’s leading legal practitioners

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A solicitor in Derry has been sentenced to three months imprisonment for contempt of court by a High Court judge following a prolonged divorce case.

Brian Stelfox was once one of Derry’s leading legal practitioners. However in a written judgment published on the Judiciary Northern Ireland website, High Court Judge John O’Hara said Stelfox had lied to the court and withheld relevant documents.

Mr Justice O’Hara said he did “not accept that I have been told anything approaching the truth” by the now disgraced solicitor.

He said that Stelfox had deliberately used a woman, who was the manager of a mobile phone shop, “as a means of channelling money over a period of time,” in the region of £35,000.

In his judgment, Mr Justice O’Hara said he was satisfied “beyond any doubt that at certain points in time, and certainly around 2016 and 2017, the respondent (Stelfox) had access to funds, probably significant funds, which he attempted to hide or wash by putting through” the woman’s account.

He said Stelfox, who had a £3m judgment made against him following “a disastrous property investment” in the Irish Republic, had failed to comply with the terms of a maintenance agreement with his former wife since 2017, and he said it was hard “to form a view of his actual income” from two legal firms he’d worked for, CMS and Proactive Lawyers.

As part of her case against Stelfox, his ex-wife employed the services of a private investigator who met Stelfox in a sting operation in the solicitor’s offices in Limavady in January 2017.

The respondent is overwhelmingly responsible for the issues which have been explored in this case. It is reasonable to be suspicious of everything he says on the basis of the cash given to him by his office manager alone, never mind his false averments and withholding of documents.

“I believe that he revealed his true self to the private investigator — the transcript reveals a boastful, dishonest man denigrating his ex-wife to a complete stranger.

"And contrary to what the respondent asserted to the private investigator, the petitioner (his ex-wife) has found work in Scotland as a lawyer but has struggled to get by because of the complete denial to her of any maintenance since spring 2017,” Mr Justice O’Hara said.

He accused Stelfox of deliberately misleading the court “and therefore to skew the outcome of the case” and added that Stelfox’s “lies were exposed despite his best efforts”.

“The respondent’s conduct in this case is all the more despicable because he is an experienced practising solicitor. If he is not punished for contempt who will be? Nobody knows or should know better than practising lawyers what the consequences of disregarding court orders are.

“In fixing a sentence for this contempt I have considered whether the sentence should be suspended, partly because I feel constrained by the prospect that the longer the respondent is imprisoned for, the less likely is the petitioner to receive any of the payments which I have ordered.

"At no point however has the respondent accepted or apologised or shown any remorse for his actions. Rather he has tried to brazen out the case. In the circumstances I cannot impose a sentence shorter than three months in prison,” the judge said.

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