A "psychic medium" has been jailed for a year after she got a man to give her €10,000 by telling him his deceased father had told her that if he did not give her the money "the devil would take his soul".
Debbie Paget, aged 55, of Knowth Court, Ballymun, Dublin was convicted by a Dublin Circuit Criminal Court jury last May. She was described by a judge as "an old-fashioned confidence trickster".
She had pleaded not guilty to dishonestly inducing by deception James Byrne to give her €10,000. She was also charged with dishonestly inducing by deception Maria Byrne, Mr Byrne's sister, to give her €200.
After deliberating for a little over four hours, the jury found Paget guilty, by a majority, of the first count and returned a not guilty verdict on the second count.
In his evidence during the trial, James Byrne told Oisín Clarke BL, prosecuting, that he and his sister Maria and their mother lived together in Cabra, Dublin. He said Paget was a home carer for a neighbour and they all got to know her that way.
He said on one occasion, Paget invited him to "a reading" and he thought this was a fortune telling and he would find out about his future. He said that during the session Paget started talking about his father and then told him: "Your father said you are to give me €10,000."
He said that he felt pressurised and gave his word to give her the money.
He said that Paget asked him, "when are you getting the money" and told him, "if you don't, it will be a sin and the devil will get you". He said that he later gave her €10,000 cash in an envelope after withdrawing it from his bank account.
Asked why he gave her the money, Mr Byrne told the jury: "I believed my father told her to tell me to give her the money, that’s what I believed."
When questioned, Paget told gardaí that she was publicly known as a "psychic medium" which meant that she could "see beyond the veil" and communicate with the dead. She said she had offered this service to people for 40 years and had "never charged a penny" to anyone for it.
She denied that she ever did "a reading" for the complainants and denied that she got any money from either of them. She said she never asked either complainant for money and said she had no idea why either of them would lie.
Mr Byrne read his victim impact statement in which he said he was very depressed in the aftermath of the offence and has had sleepless nights. He said he was very upset about his father and he thought Paget was "a decent person".
"I know now that she is not. I was taken advantage of. She said my Dad would tip me on the shoulder and she said it be would be a sin on my soul and I would go to hell if I didn’t give her the money".
"I am not a victim. I am a survivor and I felt I have learned a lesson. I am proud of myself having the courage to come here today," Mr Byrne said.
Mr Clarke confirmed that there is no evidence of where the money went. He acknowledged that there was a reference to a car and a loan during the trial but he said there was no "specific evidence" from the prosecution as to where the money went.
Two women gave evidence on behalf of Paget describing her as "funny and resilient" and spoke of the grief Paget experienced when her youngest daughter died when she was eight years old having been born with cystic fibrosis. Paget had written a book about her experiences of the death of a child.
One of the women said she had been impressed by Paget's "forthrightness and determination" while a second one said she had cared for her own mother "with nothing but love and kindness" and she wouldn’t hesitate in employing her as a carer again.
Karl Monahan BL, defending, said that his client had a horrible family life, had witnessed domestic violence and had "a cruel and sadistic" mother. She ultimately ran away from home when she was 14 years old and stayed in a shelter for young girls until she was 17 years old.
Mr Monahan said Paget was introduced to methadone after her youngest girl was born and given the CF diagnosis. Counsel said Paget became addicted to methadone but never used any other drug. She was left distraught by the death of her daughter in 1999.
Counsel said his client began to work as a carer in 2017. She recently began working as a cleaner but gave up that position when people began to recognise her from the newspaper reports surrounding her trial. Some of her family members have since distanced themselves from her and she has lost contact with some of her grandchildren.
Judge Pauline Codd said it was quite clear from Mr Byrne’s demeanour in court that he is a vulnerable person. She said Paget had told him that his deceased father had told her that if Mr Byrne did not give her €10,000 "the devil would take his soul".
She said Paget was criminally liable as she had taken large sums of money under threat, "even though those are supernatural threats". The judge described the offence as "cunning and manipulative" and that Paget had "taken advantage" of Mr Byrne.
"Far from offering him spiritual comfort, she devised a make-believe threat to his soul," Judge Codd said before she added that it doesn’t matter that the threat seemed "fantastical" because Mr Byrne believed it to be true and felt obligated to hand over the cash.
"Needless to say, her objective was far more worldly in nature, to enrich herself by manipulating a vulnerable man whose buttons she knew how to press," Judge Codd continued.
She described Paget as "an old-fashioned confidence trickster" and added that the offence represented a breach of trust.
Judge Codd stated that there has been no expression of remorse or attempt to pay back the money but acknowledged that Paget herself had "particular vulnerabilities". She sentenced Paget to 18 months in prison and suspended the final six months on strict conditions.
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