Katy French pal ‘blew whistle’ on disgraced solictor Thomas Byrne

A MILLIONAIRE car dealer who has just failed in a High Court bid to ban a newspaper linking him to underworld crime is believed to be the man who reported disgraced solicitor Thomas Byrne to the Law Society.

Lee Cullen – who was a friend of tragic model Katy French and who loaned her a string of luxury cars – hired Mr Byrne until two years ago. He is said to have fallen out with him after the solicitor kept property Mr Cullen owned registered in his own name. He is also believed to have used some of these properties as security for a number of loans he took out to fund property deals.Mr Cullen, 35, refused to comment last night but is understood to have tipped off the Law Society in 2006, when Mr Byrne was found guilty of misconduct before his practice was finally closed last October.

A former associate said last night: ‘They had a big bust-up over some property deals. The details are a bit sketchy but Cullen stopped using Byrne ages ago because of the delays that had taken place by Byrne not transferring title deeds over to him quickly enough.’

The same properties are part of a huge portfolio belonging to Mr Byrne that is now at the centre of a major fraud probe.

One of the houses in Tallaght, west Dublin that the pair’s names are linked to was bought in October 2004 by Mr Cullen and sold just four days later to Mr Byrne, who sold it back to him just under two years later.

Mr Byrne, whose €300,000 luxury car collection was seized just days before the Law Society shut down his Dublin law practice, is being investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), as well as being sued by a string of financial institutions.

He is before the courts in connection with dodgy home loans totaling €35m. In last Friday’s High Court hearing, Mr Cullen – who has already had to pay €2.15m to CAB after its detectives investigated his business affairs – not only admitted to selling cars to criminals but also admitted he was a guest at convicted drug trafficker Shane Lyons’s wedding.

He said he knew nothing about Lyons’s five-year jail term and had never been involved in money-laundering or drug-dealing. He also said he was not linked to organised crime.

Mr Byrne and Mr Cullen have had property interests in Clondalkin and on Tassaggard Green in City West. Mr Cullen sought a High Court injunction preventing the Sunday World from publishing an article linking him with criminal activity and the death of Katy French.

The High Court granted the injunction in respect of stories linking him with Miss French only. In court, he denied claims that he introduced the model to an alleged major drugs smuggler.

Mr Cullen lent her the black Range Rover that she drove in the days leading up to her collapse at a house in Kilmessan, Co. Meath on December 2.

There is no suggestion that Mr Byrne has been involved in any criminal activity. But his affairs are now being probed by CAB, whose detectives seized thousands of documents belonging to the solicitor last month. They detail the big-money deals Mr Byrne was involved in.

One of the biggest loans he took out is the €9m he borrowed from IIB Bank in August. As well as demanding that Mr Byrne return the money, a judge has ordered that he be investigated by the National Bureau of Fraud Investigation.

His car collection was seized shortly after secondhand car dealer Brian Downes, 40 – reportedly a client of Mr Byrne – was gunned down. Downes was shot in Walkinstown, west Dublin, on October 5 along with local car dealer Eddie Ward, 27, with whom he happened to be talking at the time.

Downes was a gangland ‘Mr Fixit’ said to have been involved in money laundering and stolen cars. At the time of his death, he is thought to have had assets of more than €7.5m and was being investigated by CAB.

Mr Byrne’s link to Downes was underlined last month when it was revealed he used Mr Byrne’s former Dublin marital home as his private address. The home where Mr Byrne used to live with estranged wife, Michelle, is given under details of Downes’s directorship of a firm called Vans for Cash Ltd, which was set up last January.

Last month, the High Court heard that 10 EBS loans were made to Mr Byrne between 2003 and 2007 to help him buy property.

Mr Byrne owes the firm at least €12.5m, a further €4.8m to Anglo Irish Bank and €2.5m to ACC Bank. Judge Peter Kelly said in the Commercial Court last month that Mr Byrne’s files should be handed over to detectives because they contain what he called ‘disturbing matters’.

Model Katy French has died.




MODEL Katy French has died in the arms of her sister after falling into a coma. Doctors had fought a five-day battle to save the 24-year-old, who had been rushed to hospital after reportedly falling ill at a house in Co Meath in the early hours of Sunday morning,

She had apparently collapsed at the Kilmessan house sometime between 6am and 10am and was then admitted to Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan, 15 minutes away.

The news of her death – which was flashed around the world and made US-based Fox News as well as as UK-based broadcaster Sky News and BBC News 24’s Breaking News section within minutes – was confirmed by hospital staff in a brief statement and comes as the Gardai have launched a drug probe into her death.

It came exactly one week after she celebrated her 24th birthday with a lavish Dublin city centre bash in Harcourt Street’s Krystal night club – which cancelled its first birthday celebrations tonight as a mark of respect to one of its more celebrated former clients – and just weeks after she admitted how her life had been destroyed by cocaine.

The moving statement, which was released on behalf of Katy French’s family stated: ‘Katy passed away peacefully in the arms of her sister Jill and alongside her Mum and Dad.

‘Her family thanks everyone so much for all the prayers and support and especially all the staff in Navan Hospital who gave her special care and attention throughout.’

The 7.01pm statement tonight added: ‘We have been overwhelmed by the letters, blessings, gifts and prayers from people all over the country.

‘It gave us strength and helped Katy so much. Although we did not get our yearned for miracle, all the expressions of love you sent her were powerfully healing in different ways. And we hope that you can continue to send your love to her as she journeys on.’

About two hours later, Katy’s body was taken away from the hospital in a hearse, watched in silence by waiting reporters, photographers and stunned well-wishers and patients.


It was revealed yesterday that one of the model’s friends with her on the night she fell ill was socialite Kieron Ducie. He admitted: ‘I was one of the people who helped her, but I don’t want to say any more about it.’

The circumstances leading up to her collapsing at the Kilmessan house are look set to form the basis of a Gardai investigation, which is expected to be wide-ranging.


They confirmed that they are satisfied the model was not attending a party in the house where she fell ill but had instead been a visitor.

Katy’s brand new Range Rover had been seen parked outside Ducie’s house throughout the weekend, although it was removed by a friend shortly after she was hospitalised.

Three occupants of the house at the time have been questioned and are said to be co-operating fully with what is so far being described as a preliminary investigation into Katy’s death.

It is not known as yet if one of those occupants was Kieron’s 32-year-old wife Claire, a hairdresser and stylist. However, they are believed to have split a few years ago. Ducie, who comes from a respectable and wealthy Meath family headed by haulier Kevin Snr, has not been seen at the house in Kilmessan – where Katy was a regular visitor – for the past two days.

He is said by his younger brother Darren to be ‘very upset’ about what has happened.

A Garda spokesman had said before her death was made known: ‘We have received no complaint in connection with her illness, and – as a result – there is no basis for a full investigation.’

However, a short while later a spokesman added that officers were ‘continuing their enquiries and there will be no further details until the results of a post mortem are known’.

Someone from the State Pathologist’s office will conduct the post mortem – which will include a toxicology report – tomorrow afternoon, the funeral is due in a few days time and a full inquest in her death is likely to take place next January.

Since her arrival in the hospital, friends and family had been keeping a vigil at Katy’s bedside in the hospital’s intensive care unit and her condition had been described as ‘critical’ and she was believed to have been in a coma.

On Wednesday, doctors had hoped to be able to take Katy off her ventilator and let her breath on her own. Attempts on Monday and Tuesday had, however failed and at the time – experts had give her just a 20% chance of surviving.

A special Bebo tribute page had been set up by friends, where messages of support and well wishes had been posted over the past few days.

By 7pm tonight, the site had 609 members, who included fellow Assets models Jenny Lee Masterson and Michelle McGrath, who wrote: ‘Get well soon babe! know u can pull htrough this. UR a fighter . . . all my prayers and thoughts are with you and UR family . . . All my love, Shellxxxxxxx.’




As well as collapsing, Katy – who had told reporters just days ago that she was on medication for a kidney complaint – was believed to have a suffered multiple heart attacks.

It is not known what triggered Katy’s illness but reports that she had possibly contracted meningitis were dismissed by medical experts.

As a mark of respect for Katy’s family, the planned launch of Irish Wedding Planner was called off, as it had been due to feature the model in a 12-page spread.

Boyzone star Keith Duffy said: ‘It’s a tragic situation, and my prayers and thoughts are with the family.’

At her 24th birthday party last Thursday, Katy revealed that she had a kidney infection and that she wasn’t planning to drink that night because she was on antibiotics. She had also joked that her gold mini dress wasn’t the best outfit to be wearing with an infection.

It was while perched on the back seat of the Rolls that dropped her off at the party that she was photographed by the Evening Herald – a tabloid owned by Sunday Independent and Independent newspapers publisher Independent News & Media.

The resulting story which appeared the following day zoomed in on a section of the underside of her left thigh and ran a P3 piece under the headline ‘Uh-oh Katy, is that dreaded cellulite we can see?’.

The article made snide remarks about the quality of Katy’s guests – saying that ‘rather then the A-list glitterati anticipated, those who joined in the fun were more local-list.’ It later added that ‘despite the less than A-list turnout’, Katy ‘had a blast’.

It is not known how she felt about the hurtful article, but it would have been the first newspaper report of her big event.

The house she had visited on Sunday is believed to have been one of a number of stop-offs she made in an almost non-stop round of partying. She is believed to have ‘hardly slept’ between Thursday night and Sunday morning.

Last weekend, Katy told a Sunday tabloid newspaper that she had taken cocaine in the past.

She revealed: ‘Cocaine messed my head up and is something I never want to go back to.
‘I’ve seen some of my friends almost losing everything because of coke but it’s not something that will happen to me.

‘Life is tough enough without self-inflicted pain, and that’s what coke is,’ she said.
And she had warned: ‘When you are doing coke the highs are great, but the lows are very, very low.’

The death of the former lingerie model, who shot to prominence after a very public split from her boyfriend Marcus Sweeney earlier this year, is the final chapter on a life that had been led very much in the spotlight.

Despite receiving more than her fair share of knockbacks, she battled on with her one-woman brand of self-promotion, and, as recently as last Thursday, she invited the press to her 24th birthday celebrations which she herself termed ‘a media event’.

She lived in Switzerland – where she was born – until she was about 2 ½ , when she and her family moved back to Ireland. Mother Janet was head of marketing at Guinness before setting up an online marketing company, Evotia.

Father John, who is a former MD of Novartis Pharmaceutical, split from Janet about two years ago but had maintained a united front as far as Katy was concerned, especially in her last few days.

The family lived in a large house in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow, where Katy was able to indulge in her love of horse riding.

Katy went to Milltown’s exclusive Alexandra College, where she sat her Leaving Cert before going on to study sociology and psychology at University College Dublin.

She followed this up by joining the Dublin-based Assets Modelling Agency in the summer of 2002.

At the time, she told reporters: ‘A few people had mentioned (modeling) to me before and I just thought one day it would be a great way of making some extra money and having fun as well. ‘I don’t think it was ever about the glamour of it, it was more a business venture for me.’

With her good nature, sense of humour and dedication, she was very soon gracing the pages of the country’s newspapers. She soon became something of an It Girl about town, and – in just a short space of time – managed to land lucrative contracts with a variety of household companies such as Pepsi and Dunnes Stores.

But while she was undeniably successful, it wasn’t until January that she shot to national prominence after her fiancé Marcus took grave exception to Katy’s penchant for taking her clothes off to model.

The one-time happy couple, who were often spotted on the Dublin party scene, had intended to tie the knot in the spring, in the eternal city of Rome. But the photo shoot in Number 10 restaurant in South William Street put paid to that.

Any hopes of a reconciliation after the modelling row came to a swift end when Marcus sent Katy a barrage of abusive text messages – which somehow they all ended up being reprinted in a newspaper.

In the ensuing fight back, Marcus let slip that Katy had spurned his modest engagement ring in favour of a much larger, shinier and more ostentatious version, which she picked up from a wear for E14.

She managed to capitalize on the split – some would say – spectacularly well and made the break to a wider audience when she landed a place on RTÉ’s Celebrities Go Wild, for People In Need, as well as appearing on a number of chat shows, including a memorable appearance on the Late Late in which she shared a coffin with a boa constrictor.

The stunt was a part of the show where viewers voted on which of four celebrities should confront their fears and phobias. It’ll come as no surprise that the attractive blonde was the viewers’ top choice.

Katy bravely spent 30 seconds in the coffin with the Burmese python and, in doing so, earned e15,000 for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin, Co. Dublin.

She completed three other tasks, with each one earning her charity €5,000. At the time, she said she endured the gruesome tasks in honour of a cousin who died, aged 21, of cystic fibrosis, and the children of two close friends who died of leukaemia.




Katy said: ‘What I had to do looked and felt a bit sickening – believe me, sticking your face in a container full of maggots is no fun at all. And being locked in with the python was pretty damned frightening.

‘But it all pales into insignificance compared to what other people who suffer from illnesses have to endure.

‘There is nothing my aunt and uncle wouldn’t do to bring back their son, Simon. I was very close to him when I was growing up and he had a terrible time before he died. It broke so many people’s hearts to lose him so young.

‘I’m just really glad that members of the public voted for me to do what I had to do because it raised e30,000 for a very worthwhile cause.’

Her previous boyfriends have included car dealer, Damien Gilson, the brother of fellow model Glenda. Katy was pitted against Glenda earlier this year by the bookies, in a contest over who would earn the most column inches.

Katy was said to be disappointed to have lost – and redoubled her efforts in the subsequent months.

She has also been linked with marketing man Ivan Cummins, and was even briefly engaged to Sasha Evans, who ran the now defunct Bridge Café in Ballsbridge.

Her friends include top model and Assets model boss Andrea Roche, and You’re A Star judge and columnist Brendan O’Connor – with whom she had become increasingly close over the past few months.

Her publicly stated view on abortion – that she would not bring a child into the world if she could not provide for it – earned her the tag ‘controversial’, and may have contributed to her being the first person voted off Celebrities Go Wild.

And her recent admission that she has taken cocaine in the past, having previously denied touching hard drugs, had left commentators baffled.

She said only last week: ‘Things in the papers constantly upset me, but, you see, I’m kind of my own publicist.

‘I’m only 24 – I don’t always know necessarily what is the right PR way to do things.’

Her mother, Janet, said at the time: ‘Sometimes she says to me that she’s seen a website chat and it’s awful the things they’ve said about her.

‘Sometimes she’s okay about it but sometimes it gets her down. I say to her, “A lot of people have written rotten things but a lot of people have written good things.

‘Which ones do you want to listen to? You cannot be loved by everybody. Nobody can.”’

And her father, John, said: ‘I think Katy was miscalculated as simply a blonde model.’