A confidence trickster who, along with his estranged partner, scammed a vulnerable Newtownstewart man out of thousands of pounds has been convicted in his absence at trial – after he absconded just as he was to take the witness stand.
Using aliases and false promises of a pending inheritance, along with claims of terminal illness, the victim was conned out of cash by the pair who were complicit in the enterprise.
Peter McDonagh (49) of Fox Street, Portadown – a self-proclaimed ‘seventh son of a seventh son’ – stood trial at Dungannon Crown Court on 11 charges of obtaining funds by false representation. In under a year, McDonagh and his estranged partner Julie Larkin (39) of Barrack Street, Coalisland gained the trust of the victim through emotional blackmail and abusing his sympathetic nature.
The offences occurred from May 2013 to March 2014 and involved the pair promising to repay what amounted to over £14,000, which they had no intention of doing. They used aliases and fictitious lawyers to take advantage of the victim.
Larkin was to stand trial alongside McDonagh but accepted nine charges at the last minute. As a result the jury was discharged as McDonagh’s case was proceeding.
A second jury was also discharged after McDonagh approached a juror outside the court, protesting his innocence. Police are currently investigating this.
With a third jury sworn in the trial finally got underway and the victim, aged in his 60s, recalled being out for a walk when a car drew alongside with McDonagh behind the wheel.
Despite being entirely unknown to the victim, he claimed to have been driving a lorry which ran out of diesel and needed £70.
This chance meeting kick-started repeated targeting of the victim for cash.
McDonagh, who used the name ‘Charlie’, appeared at the victim’s home on May 21, 2013, claiming his uncle had died leaving a legacy in the Isle of Man and said he needed £900 to release the funds.
The victim told the court, “He said he was the seventh son of a seventh son. He got down on his knees and swore he would repay me. He told me he had cancer.”
McDonagh then brought a woman named ‘Maureen’ to the victim’s home, introducing her as his sister. This was Larkin, the co-defendant and McDonagh’s partner at the time.
As demands for cash both continued and increased, meetings took place involving mysterious persons posing as lawyers.
McDonagh denied all charges, but the jury would never hear his evidence as he absconded before taking the witness stand.
The trial went ahead in his absence.
Following a recap of evidence, the jury retired, and deliberated for around 90 minutes before returning guilty verdicts on ten out of the 11 counts.
Press successfully applied for all reporting restrictions imposed during the course of the trial to be rescinded.
Larkin who has been remanded on bail since pleading guilty, will be sentenced for her role in the criminal enterprise later this month.
A bench warrant could not be issued for McDonagh’s arrest as it meant legal aid would be withdrawn prior to sentencing, which will go ahead in his absence at a later date.