A WINDOW fitter and his wife, who were "duped" into buying a dream campervan the seller did not own, have been told by a judge it cannot be touched by a bank.
CIRCUIT Court president Mr Justice Raymond Groarke told Friends First Finance Ltd it could not seize the vehicle from Stephen and Margaret Murtagh, of Woodford Crescent, Clondalkin, Dublin.
Barrister John Morrissey, counsel for the couple, told the Circuit Civil Court the couple had bought it from a Barry Callaghan, who operated a vehicle recovery and sales unit in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.
It had transpired Mr Callaghan had bought the Ford Transit-based mobile home in a hire purchase agreement with Friends First Finance in 2007 and still owed more than €30,000 on it when he sold it to Mr Murtagh in April 2008.
Mr Murtagh said that when Mr Callaghan accepted their offer it was like their first family Christmas. They were so excited that he had not checked out its history after Mr Callaghan said there was no outstanding finance on it.
Mr Murtagh told Judge Groarke he borrowed €30,000 from EBS Building Society and gave a draft cheque and €1,600 in cash to Mr Callaghan.
They were in a hurry to leave on a first trip in it, the court heard. It was registered in his name in 2008 but Mr Callaghan had since gone out of business.
Mr Murtagh said he never had dealings with Friends First and was shocked to receive a letter from them in July 2011, claiming the campervan was theirs under a business hire purchase agreement in 2007 with Barry Callaghan.
His solicitor Padraig Murphy had informed Friends First that the Murtaghs had bought the campervan in good faith without notice of anyone else's rights or interests and that it was now their property.
Judge Groarke said Mr Murtagh was an entirely honest man and trusted Mr Callaghan. He had made a €30,000-plus investment that he would be paying back until 2037 and had been assured there were no problems of outstanding finance or ownership.
He said the bank, because of an error, had delayed by two years in registering the hire purchase agreement on any car check website, so even if Mr Murtagh had carried out an inquiry he would not have discovered anything untoward.
Friends First Finance had known from November 2009 that Mr Callaghan had sold on the vehicle to Mr Murtagh but had taken no action until 2011.
There had to be some obligation, particularly on banks, to take early steps to alert an innocent and duped individual.
Judge Groarke said the bank had not sued Mr Callaghan nor had it made any counter claim against Mr Murtagh's application for a declaration that the campervan was rightly his.