High Court reporters
Two former trustees of a non-denominational church have failed to have their bankruptcies annulled by the High Court.
Brendan and Sheila Hade were trustees for the Victory Christian Fellowship (VCF) and were adjudicated bankrupt in 2019 arising out of default on a €2.2 million loan advanced to them in 2008 by Bank of Scotland (BoS).
The couple, along with another man, as trustees of the VCF, had also been advanced €17.6 million by BoS to build a “new church and centre” on lands at Firhouse Road in south Dublin.
In December 2013, the High Court entered judgment against them in favour of BoS for €18.5 million in relation to that loan.
BoS sold their own loan to Feniton Property Finance in 2016 and applied to have them adjudicated bankrupt on the basis of €1.8 million still due.
Before this, however, BoS called in receivers over two properties they owned, including their home at Rockbrook Rathfarnham, Dublin, which had been used as security for the €2.2 million loan.
If they get an annulment of the bankruptcy, they can, in their own right, bring proceedings over what they said was the unfair treatment by BoS in 2013 when the bank called in the receivers.
The appointment of receivers had followed the loss of VCF's charitable status over its entitlement to claim relief from VAT on various items purchased for use in the construction of the new church.
State of mind and health
Although they exited bankruptcy in 2019, in order to bring proceedings they still need the permission of the court-appointed official, the Official Assignee (OA), who oversaw their bankruptcy. The OA's position is that he is willing to discuss the possibility of allowing such proceedings to be brought if they failed in seeking an annulment.
Feniton opposed the annulment application.
The Hades, in affidavits, said when the bankruptcy process began they sought "guidance, help and solace within our church and its congregation".
Due to "our state of mind and health at that time" they discharged their lawyers and withdrew "into our spiritual home of our ongoing church at Victory Christian Fellowship", they said.
They did so because of the extreme difficulties they found themselves in and due to "the pressure we were no longer able to endure." Media coverage of the problems at VCF also caused them enormous distress and caused them to adopt a "certain stance" to legal matters, the court heard.
Among their arguments for annulment, they said there was a discrepancy in the amount of the debt cited in the bankruptcy summons of €63 and this was fatal to the validity of such applications.
Feniton said it was a clerical error due to a simple inadvertent transposition of two digits in relation to the calculation of interest. The interest was put at €90,907.93 when it should have been €90,970.93, it said.
Mr Justice Mark Sanfey dismissed their annulment application.
He had sympathy for the predicament of the couple, who are both of an advanced age.
But, he said "they chose not to fight their corner in the courts, but now want the court to come to their aid and set at nought" the efforts of Feniton to realise the value of their estates with a view to recovering the debt.
He said it was difficult to see how such a course of action could be “just and equitable” to Feniton, or to other creditors as a whole.
The total sum due, inclusive of interest, was some €1.8 million and this was the correct amount, the judge said. The Hades could have discharged this sum but did not do so and did not avail of their right to do so during the bankruptcy proceedings and did not contest that hearing, he said.
He said "a few minutes with a calculator" would have made it clear to them the €63 discrepancy "was most likely a clerical error and that the demanded sum on the bankruptcy summons itself was correct".
He did not consider the particulars annexed to the bankruptcy summons invalidated the summons itself, which had demanded the correctly calculated amount of the debt.