A judge ruled that more than £120,000 contained in a couple’s bank accounts and suspected of being linked to theft and money laundering could be handed over to the police.

The cash was held in Barclays, Starling Bank and NatWest accounts in the names of couple Michael Kealy and Nora O’Brien.

Thames Valley Police claimed the money was either the proceeds of theft or linked to money laundering and, having successfully asked for the bank accounts to be ‘frozen’, applied for the money to be handed over to the authorities.

And coming down in favour of the police, District Judge Kamlesh Rana said in a ruling that she found parts of Mr Kealy’s evidence ‘implausible’.

Taken together, the evidence led to an ‘irresistible inference the frozen funds represent the proceeds of criminal activity’, she said.

Lawyers for the police told Oxford Magistrates’ Court that there were no HMRC records to suggest Mr Kealy or Ms O’Brien were paying tax on income through pay-as-you-earn and there were no VAT records linked to the couple.

Mr Kealy was a self-employed businessman buying and selling antiques and cars. Notwithstanding his claims he bought-and-sold items online, he was unable to provide evidence of his online accounts or transactions, police said.

There was no direct evidence to show he had bought a vehicle from a ‘Mr Williams’, but the court heard there was evidence showing it was Mr Kealy who sold it to a Nottinghamshire motorhomes company for almost twice the price Mr Williams had received for it. Mr Kealy was unable to provide any evidence showing how he had acquired the vehicle.

He was said to have sold 21 vehicles to the company between November 2020 and December 2021, amounting to some £400,000. However, the proceeds from only five car sales was seen going through his bank accounts.

The police accused Mr Kealy of ‘dishonesty’ during the court proceedings, pointing to an email sent by him that purported to be from an accountant.

They also presented a business card for a company, Tipperary Tools, that did not exist but contained Mr Kealy’s contact details.

He accepted creating the business card but denied doing so dishonestly. District Judge Rana dismissed that claim, saying: “In my view the only purpose in using the company name was to create a false impression of legitimacy.”

Mr Kealy was also linked through his fingerprints to an alleged fraud of an elderly couple, which was being investigated by West Mercia Police. He denied any involvement in the fraud and said the items – not described in the judgement - were similar to those normally sold through his business.

In her ruling, District Judge Rana said his claims to have rarely accepted payment by cheque was ‘not consistent with the movement of £40,000 in cheques’ through the bank accounts.

Ms O’Brien, whose account was allegedly used to hold unexplained income, did not work, police said. She claimed that the money came from the sale of items inherited from her grandmother and sold at auctions and fairs.

The couple said they were from the traveller community and it was not unusual for no records to be kept.

Funds amounting to £122,775 from three frozen bank accounts were ruled to be ‘recoverable property’ under Proceeds of Crime Act rules and were forfeit to Thames Valley Police. The couple must pay the force’s £4,415 costs.

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.  

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward