Local farmers settle High Court dispute

Court reporter


Court reporter

A settlement has been reached in a High Court dispute between a woman and her former Co Longford boyfriend over a farm they had bought together.

A settlement has been reached in a High Court dispute between a woman and her former Co Longford boyfriend over a farm they had bought together.

Marie Caffrey (42), a farmer and trainee nurse in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, from Loughduff in Co Cavan, claimed cattle dealer and farmer John Coyle, from Breahy, Edgeworthstown unjustly enriched himself from the proceeds of the sale of their 132-acre farm for €1.23m in December 2008.

She claimed that after they broke up Mr Coyle secretly bought the farm, along with his cousin Seamus Coyle, after he (John) warned off other potential purchasers that it was his land. She alleged he used funds from the running of the farm to buy it for himself which by then included a new house they had planned to live in together.

Ms Caffrey asked that the High Court award her €150,000 compensation, because she claimed Mr Coyle obstructed the sale which led to a delay during which the property market greatly deteriorated. Mr Coyle strongly denied the claims and his lawyer said she was making “wild allegations”.

The court heard that there was no secret purchase of the farm by Mr Coyle, but it was bought by his cousin with the intention of the entire farm going to the cousin if he (John) was unable to come up with finance for 78 acres of the land, including the new house. It also emerged that Ms Caffrey agreed to contribute only €68,000 to repaying the original loan they got to buy the farm in 2004 for €1.1m, while Mr Coyle put €384,000 to pay off the debt.

Mr Coyle also said he paid for most of the yet to be completed planned marital home, costing €288,000. He also pointed out that the had sold off three sites from his own land to come up with €210,000 to help pay off the mortgage, while Ms Caffrey denied she refused to do the same by selling off three sites on her on land, for which there were offers of up to €270,000.

The court heard that the couple decided to buy the farm for €1.1m at Coole, Castlepollard in Westmeath in September 2004. At the time, Ms Caffrey also owned two farms totalling nearly 100 acres in Cavan while Mr Coyle already owned another 60-acre farm in Edgeworthstown. She put up €116,000 for the deposit, which was later repaid to her, and also put up her two debt-free Cavan properties as security for the remaining borrowings they took out, totalling €1.27m.

The property was bought in Ms Caffrey’s name in order that she could avail of a €100,000 stamp duty exemption for young farmers, although this was ultimately clawed back by Revenue because the property was re-sold within five years, counsel said.

The court also heard how there is now €307,000 in a solicitor’s joint account from the proceeds of the sale which both are equally entitled to.

Ms Caffrey said, that she however should be awarded at least another €150,000 for a number of reasons, including because, she was obstructed from the sale by the pulling down of “for sale” signs, She also claimed that Mr Coyle told prospective purchasers who came to view it to “get off the property or he would shoot them.” Ms Caffrey told the court that although the initial intention was that they would both run the new farm together, Mr Coyle increasingly took control and the breaking point was when he sold 35 of her cattle for €28,000. The court heard that when she asked him about them, he insisted the cattle were still on his land. He had also sold timber from mature trees on the land for €80,000, baled silage for €17,500 and also received rent from letting out the land, she claimed.

Under cross-examination from Peter Bland SC, for Mr Coyle, Ms Caffrey denied there was an agreement with Mr Coyle that they would both sell sites from the individual farms to pay off the loan for buying the farm. She said it was incorrect to say she had received offers totalling up to €270,000 for three sites of her own land, but had refused to accept them. She agreed Mr Coyle had paid €384,000, including €210,000 from the sale of sites on his own land, to pay off the loans while she had only contributed €68,429. The matter was subsequently settled.