09 Aug 2022

Travel agent who used ‘Father Ted’ defence appeals conviction for stealing from Lapland charity

father ted santa claus lapland

Appeal lodged in charity theft case.

A travel agent found guilty of stealing money from a charity which sent terminally ill children to Lapland must wait to hear the outcome of an appeal against his conviction. 

John Murphy (69), also known as Con Murphy, had pleaded not guilty to four counts of theft from The Children to Lapland Appeal between June and July 2010 totalling €18,643.

Murphy, of Church Road, in Killiney, had founded the charity in 1987. It raised money from donations to bring terminally ill children on trips to see Santa Claus in Lapland. Murphy also operated United Travel, a travel agent based in Stillorgan, in Dublin, before it went out of business in 2012.

His defence at trial was that the charity owed him money and it was normal for monies to travel back and forth between the accounts. 

The prosecution characterised his position as ‘the Father Ted defence’. “To quote Dermot Morgan, they're trying to say 'the money was simply resting in my account,” Garrett McCormack, for the DPP, contended. 

Murphy was found guilty by a jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court after 42 minutes of deliberations and he was subsequently given a wholly suspended three-year sentence by Judge Pat McCartan on March 16, 2016.

He moved to appeal his conviction this week on the main ground that the trial judge deprived the jury of the opportunity to consider the defence of “honest belief”.

Murphy’s barrister, Patrick Reynolds BL, said there was evidence of a belief on Murphy’s part that he was entitled to act as he did. He said the auditor had confirmed under cross-examination that Murphy had subsidised the charity for years and the investigating detective accepted “reluctantly” that Murphy’s personal accounts and business accounts were interchangeable, Mr Reynolds said. 

Counsel submitted that the trial judge, on four occasions in his instructions to the jury, stated there was no defence for them to consider.

Furthermore, he said the trial judge unfairly made the point that Murphy had not gotten into the witness box to say he believed he was entitled to the money. 

President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, reserved judgment. 

Det Garda Brian Daveron told Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that he began investigating the Children to Lapland Appeal after a complaint about how it was being run. He obtained court orders for access to the charity’s account and Murphy’s personal accounts.

He discovered four cheques had been written from the charity’s account and lodged in Murphy’s personal account.

Murphy was not in court for the appeal. 

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