Bookkeeper cleared of false accounting charges for Inishowen bar

March 27, 2024

A bookkeeper has been cleared of false accounting charges after an Inishowen business was found to have been falsely declaring wages and PRSI contributions to a man who emigrated to Canada.

Edel Farren was before Buncrana District Court this week, but her case was dismissed by Judge Ciaran Liddy.

Judge Liddy ruled that Ms Farren, who was working as a bookkeeper for Rosato’s Bar in Moville, was merely acting on information provided to her by Mr Eddie Harkin, the business owner.

Ms Farren, a 48-year-old of Ballymacarthur, Greencastle, faced four charges contrary to Section 10 (1) (c) and (3) of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act, 2001.

The charges alleged that Ms Farren had created a falsified form, a P35 in the name of David Kearney, between 2014 and 2018.

The matter first came to light when Mr Kearney returned home to Greencastle in 2018 after a spell abroad.

He had worked as a bartender and a long-distance truck driver in Canada having previously been employed at Rosato’s Bar.

Mr Kearney told the court that he worked in Rosasto’s for around a year and a half on a part-time basis before heading across the Atlantic.

Upon returning home, Mr Kearney made an application for benefits and was told he did not qualify as he was shown to be still working in Ireland and earning income.

“The money ‘paid’ to me, I never received it,” Mr Kearney told Judge Liddy, adding that he subsequently went to speak to Mr Harkin, his former employer.

Mr Morgan Mooney, who was then working with the Inishowen Special Investigation Unit of the Department of Social Protection, said that Mr Kearney presented seeking a claim for social welfare and records showed that he was employed for the previous four years.

“It was established that he was out of the country,” Mr Mooney told the court.

Mr Harkin subsequently made an unprompted disclosure to Revenue about the payments that he made as wages and this was taxed at income.

Mr Mooney explained that the money shown on the books as Mr Kearney’s wages was income that wasn’t disclosed and Mr Harkin would have had a tax liability for the sums.

In the business accounts, payments were shown as having been made. Mr Mooney confirmed that there was no gain to Mr Kearney and the wages that were shown to have been paid to him would have remained in the business.

The sums involved were not disclosed in court. Mr Frank Dorrian, solicitor for Ms Farren, said that effectively it was shown that Mr Kearney was working in Rosato’s with, on the face of it, PRSI contributions being made, ‘but he (Mr Harkin) was cashing the cheque himself’.

Detective Garda Paul Lynch told how a complaint was received from the Department of Social Protection in June 2019 regarding PRSI contributions made by Rosato’s Bar for 2014-17 and part of 2018 regarding Mr Kearney.

Detective Garda Lynch said that P35 forms were submitted showing Mr Kearney as an employee at the end of each year.

When Ms Farren was interviewed under caution in May 2021, she admitted creating the forms and submitting them to Revenue. “She believed that he was an employee during these times,” Detective Garda Lynch said. “She was acting on information supplied by her employer, Mr Harkin.”

Detective Garda Lynch told the court that Mr Harkin came to the garda station with a pre-prepared statement.

Mr Frank Dorrian, solicitor for Ms Farren, asked if Mr Harkin responded ‘no comment’ for ‘all the way’ when questioned. “For most of the questions,” Detective Garda Lynch said. When asked about Ms Farren, Mr Harkin was said to have told detectives: ‘I’m sorry, no comment’.

Inspector Paul Gallagher said that records showed that there were 32 employees in 2014 and 2015 before going to 38 in 2016 and rising to 41 in 2017 and 2018. Through that period, Inspector Gallagher said it was clear that Mr Kearney ‘does not appear to be an insignificant employee’.

He said all parties reside in a local area and argued that the bookkeeper must be considered to have had knowledge that Mr Kearney and his fiancée had ‘departed for foreign shores for a considerable period of time’.

Mr Dorrian said it wasn’t for Ms Farren to know of anyone’s whereabouts.

“She was trapped by the fact that she simply didn’t know,” Mr Dorrian said. He said that Mr Kearney was shown to occupy a prominent position in the company.

“She doesn’t know where any of the employees are at,” Mr Dorrian said. “She doesn’t be in there doing a head count.”

He said there was no evidence that Ms Farren had any knowledge of this ‘at any point in the graph’.

“ We were the conduit, not the author of the deception,” he said. “For the scheme to work, Mr Kearney would have had to be prominent.”

Mr Dorrian said that the integrity of the information was in question and that this was ‘provided by the person with the overarching responsibility’.

He said: “There is no suggestion that this lady gained in any way.”

In delivering his verdict, Judge Liddy said that knowledge or recklessness was at the heart of the charge.

He said Ms Farren had consistently maintained the position that she created and submitted the documents based on information provided to her by Mr Harkin.

Judge Liddy said that Ms Farren’s role was to ‘process figures based on the figures provided’.

He said bookkeepers don’t occupy management or operational roles. “They are a step removed from the operation,” Judge Liddy said. “They tot up figures and make calculations based entirely on the information provided to that person.”

He said it was clear that Ms Farren assiduously followed information provided by Mr Harkin and was acting on the instruction of Mr Harkin.

Noting that it was not established that she had any knowledge, Judge Liddy said there was ‘nothing remarkable to cause Ms Farren to have concerns from amongst all of the other entries’,

Judge Liddy dismissed the charge.