Belfast Telegraph

Man duped into handing over £1.5m worth of land by ‘healer’ who claimed he could cure his chronic back pain, court hears

By Alan Erwin

A Co Antrim pensioner was allegedly told he could be cured of chronic pain if he transferred farmland worth £1.5m over to a business associate, the High Court has heard.

James McIlhatton (73) also claimed he paid out £500,000 to defendant John McMullan before their relationship broke down.

Details of the alleged deception emerged as a judge ordered Mr McMullan to hand back some of the land near Ballymoney.

The case centred on a dispute over an agreement to hand over 150 acres, premises at Moyan Road, Stranocum and cash.

Mr McIlhatton issued a writ back in 2011 for rescission of the arrangement on the grounds of misrepresentation, undue influence, deceit, fraud and breach of contract.

He also sought restitution of all money advanced due to Mr McMullan's alleged wrongdoing.

With Mr McIlhatton said to be in pain and suffering ill-health, the court heard claims Mr McMullan persuaded him that he could cure him if he transferred his property to the defendant.

Mr McMullan denied purporting to be a healer.

He did not, however, dispute that the land was moved to him or money paid out.

According to his case the two men had known each other from childhood and agreed on a joint venture restoring and selling used cars, with profits split 50/50.

He claimed to have been involved in running the farm and an equestrian business.

Although Mr McMullan accepted £212,000 of an alleged £500,000 was advanced to him in loans, he denied any payments were made in the form of "fines" for the plaintiff's "disbelief".

Earlier this year the case appeared to have been settled when the defendant agreed to transfer back some of the land.

No requirement was made for money to be repaid by Mr McMullan, who now says he is penniless.

After he refused to complete the transfer, Mr McIlhatton's lawyers sought a court order.

Counsel for the defendant resisted the move, arguing that the original settlement should instead be set aside.

Mr McMullan claimed he signed up to the agreement on the basis of mistaken legal advice, and that he was denied a house in habitable condition on Moyan Road as part of the settlement.

Rejecting the defendant's case, Mr Justice Deeny said no mention was made of the dwelling in the original agreement.

He said it appeared to be a retrospective excuse for not completing his bargain.

"The original claim here was for the restoration of over 150 acres of land, valued at £1.5m, and the restoration of monies of about £500,000," the judge pointed out.

"The fundamentals of this agreement were that the plaintiff was to get back his home and some of his lands, and in return for that the defendant was allowed to retain some of the other land which he had acquired and was relieved of an acknowledged debt of £212,000 and a possible claim for restitution of about another £300,000," he said.

Identifying no evidence of mistaken legal advice either, Mr Justice Deeny added: "It seems to me the defendant got a very good settlement so far as the circumstances are known to the court."

He ruled that Mr McMullan had entered into a legally binding agreement and granted the order sought by Mr McIlhatton.

"The defendant shall, within 14 days of this judgment, time being of the essence, execute a transfer to the plaintiff of those lands at Moyan Road, Stranocum, Ballymoney."

Neighbours thought storyteller had won the lottery

By Nevin Farrell

Locals in Kilraughts near Stranocum in Co Antrim always wondered how John McMullan had appeared to have come into money.

They said he had previously lived in a Housing Executive property but then turned up in a large two-storey farmhouse, owning several horses.

"We thought he had won the pools or the lottery. That was the story that most people around here had heard. There were a lot of rumours about how he came into money," said one local.

News of the details of the 'healer' court case sent shockwaves through the quiet rural area.

Locals were baffled by the Belfast High Court claims that retired farmer James McIlhatton (73) was told he could be cured of chronic pain if he transferred farmland worth £1.5m to Mr McMullan.

Local people said they had no knowledge of Mr McMullan being described as a 'healer'.

Kilraughts is not the sort of place usually mentioned in the High Court. It is an extended townland with no clusters of houses, a few churches and no shop or a school with the nearest one being a couple of miles away at the far end of the Moyan Road.

Local people confirmed Mr McIlhatton suffered from a bad back and that there was a special 'disability rail' in place at the back door of his home.

Residents in the Kilraughts area said Mr McMullan, who is believed to be around 50, had at one stage lived in an adjacent farmhouse to Mr McIlhatton.

Locals said he no longer lived there but were unsure where he is now residing. They said Mr McMullan was well-known in the area as a storyteller. One resident said: "John grew up around here and he always would tell a good story.

"One time he was involved in an accident and although he is 6ft tall he said when he saw a lorry coming towards his car, out of control, he was able to lie down flat as the roof was sliced off, according to him, and he survived."

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