TV presenter-turned-MP Brendan Horan was a golden boy in the eyes of his mother, Olwen. But by the time she died of cancer in August, she had secretly amended her will, concerned that he had been taking money from her. Tony Wall reports on the rise and fall of a backbencher.
The end of Brendan Horan's political career with NZ First began earlier this year when his mother, Olwen Horan, noticed irregularities in her bank balances.
She asked her son, Mana Ormsby, to collect her bank statements and go through them with her executor and trustee, her nephew, John Buckthought.
Olwen Horan, 87, had won an Australian lottery in 1999 that included a house and a car worth about $1 million. She had to live in the house in Queensland for a year before she could sell it and return to New Zealand with the proceeds.
After looking through the statements, some of which were in unopened envelopes in Olwen Horan's home in Mt Maunganui, Ormsby became concerned that large sums of money appeared to be missing. In February 2007, his mother had about $259,000 in her current account. That was down to less than $3000.
The statements showed there were more than 200 withdrawals from ATMs and TABs. The amounts ranged from $100 to $1000 and, on some occasions, there were two or three withdrawals on the same day.
Much of the money was withdrawn between 2007 and 2009. It is understood that various family members had access to Olwen Horan's cards, because they would do the shopping for her.
Ormsby sent 10 years of statements to Auckland lawyer Mark Hornabrook, lawyer for his mother's estate.
In May, Olwen Horan's daughter, Marilyn Bleackley, told the family she was enacting powers of attorney given to her by her mother in 2007, because of Olwen Horan's failing health and memory. In response, Olwen Horan removed powers of attorney from Bleackley and got a doctor's certificate to say she was in her right mind to administer her own affairs.
On July 2, a month before she died, she signed a codicil, or amendment, to her will, authorising Buckthought to retrieve money either loaned to Bleackley and Brendan Horan, or "taken by misadventure".
If the money could not be recouped, Bleackley's and Horan's shares in her estate should be adjusted to reflect this.
Her only wish was that none of this be played out while she was still alive, because she was dying painfully of cancer.
Almost from the moment Olwen Horan removed powers of attorney from Bleackley, the infighting began. Brendan Horan and Bleackley believed their mother's moves were driven by Ormsby, their half-brother, who had been living at her home and caring for her for several years.
"As soon as power of attorney was changed, everything changed between my sister and myself and Brendan and myself," Ormsby says. "All of a sudden, they wanted me out of the house."
Ormsby is a 55-year-old invalid beneficiary who cannot work because of rheumatoid arthritis and a prolapsed disc. When his mother died and the house was sold, he was left with nowhere to live. He has been staying with friends, and lives week to week.
After the Sunday Star-Times broke the story two weeks ago, the paper started hearing whispers from Brendan Horan's camp that Ormsby had mental-health problems and had imagined that the money was missing.
Ormsby believes this is part of a vicious campaign to discredit him and Buckthought.
It is alleged that Horan told people that Buckthought, a Mt Maunganui car dealer, had charged excessive commission on two cars, a Mercedes and a Mazda, belonging to his mother.
The will clearly states that Buckthought can sell the cars through his business and is entitled to charge "all the usual costs of sale and commission". Ormsby says Buckthought can prove he didn't charge any commission at all. Horan denies he made the claims.
Ormsby also claims Horan tried three times to video his mother before her death in what he believes was an attempt to record her saying she had no concerns about financial irregularities. Horan dismisses this as "fantasy".
Ormsby claims that on one occasion Horan went to his mother's home a few weeks before she died and attempted to record her on an iPad.
"He woke her up. She'd only taken her morphine 20 minutes before."
Ormsby says the iPad's video device was turned on, and Horan's son, who was also present, asked why he was recording.
"He [Brendan Horan] was trying to get me to leave because he wanted to talk to mum alone."
Ormsby says that after Horan tried to record her on a second occasion, he phoned the hospice which was helping him to care for his mother.
"I was concerned, I wanted them to note the incident."
Horan describes all his brother's claims as "rubbish" and "fantasy", but will not go into detail because he says everything is with his lawyers.
A family source who supports Horan says Olwen Horan "spent like a trooper" in the years before she died, and also needed operations. Others dispute this, saying she was frugal.
Horan's camp has tried to discredit Ormsby by pointing out that he did not visit his mother in hospital when she went in for blood transfusions (Horan took her on several occasions), and did not attend her funeral.
Ormsby says he had an agreement with his mother that he would stay at home and look after the house and dog while she was in hospital.
He didn't attend her funeral, he says, because he wanted to avoid conflict with Horan and Bleackley out of respect for his mother.
He says he said his goodbyes to her in hospital a few days before she died. She was heavily medicated and could only communicate by squeezing his hand.
"I didn't like to see her like that. It was heartbreaking."
Staying away from the funeral was the best thing Ormsby could have done for his mother's memory, another family member says.
"There would have been blood on the floor."
It is understood that Horan and Bleackley were shocked when the codicil was revealed at the reading of the will.
Olwen Horan's estate was modest. She directed that her house be sold (it fetched $425,000), with the first $150,000 going to her son, Peter, a bankrupt, and the rest to be divided between Bleackley, Horan and Ormsby.
She also bequeathed jewellery and paintings to family members. Horan was left a Dame Laura Night picture and a Royal Albert old country roses tea set.
B RENDAN HORAN denies he has a gambling problem, but multiple sources spoken to by the Star-Times say he is a regular punter.
Phone records leaked by NZ First last week show he used his parliamentary phone to call the TAB betting line 12 times in about four hours.
Ormsby claims his brother would lose all his money gambling and then ask their mother for a loan. Ormsby claims that on one occasion, he asked her for $200, but she refused. At the time, Horan was involved with the company Gold Buyers, after being made redundant from Television New Zealand. He pulled out a Gold Buyers cheque, Ormsby says, wrote it out for $100 and said he would repay the other $100 the following week.
The cheque was never cashed, and Ormsby sent it to the lawyers in Auckland along with the bank statements.
Sources close to Horan have said the whole family gambled, including Olwen Horan and Ormsby, and they would sit around at weekends laying bets on TAB accounts.
Ormsby confirms he has a TAB account, but says he bets only small amounts.
"There was only one heavy gambler in the family and that was Brendan," he says. "Mum would bet $1 each way and I would bet $1 each way. I had a TAB account, but I'm not a compulsive gambler."
Others who know Horan say that outwardly, at least, he didn't seem to have a gambling problem.
Taranaki horse trainer John Wheeler says Horan would phone him occasionally to ask about his horses.
"He'd bet reasonably frequently, but I don't think he put a lot on. He's rung me up a couple of times to see how particular horses are going. I'd say, ‘Did you back that horse last week?' and he'd say, ‘Yeah, I had five each way or 10 each way'. He may bet bigger than that, I don't know, that might have been just talk, but he didn't seem to pursue it with any recklessness or anything like that."
Staff at the Mount Turf Bar and TAB near Horan's office in Mt Maunganui say he would come in occasionally, but did not seem to be a heavy gambler. Staff at the TAB at Bay Fair, near Horan's home, would not comment.
Horan said last week he had done nothing wrong by making the phone calls, but his former boss, Peters, replied: "If Brendan thinks he's done no wrong, he doesn't know what the word wrong means."
Horan remains adamant that he never took any money from his mother's accounts, and says he has been treated unfairly because he has never been shown any evidence against him. He says he will stay on as an independent MP, and is understood to still be considering legal action against those who have made claims against him.
Ormsby says the only reason he has spoken publicly about the matter is because Horan was "slandering" him.
He says he was only trying to carry out his mother's wishes.
"That's why I've gone this far and am prepared to go as far as it takes. He's talking about suing people. I don't care What's he going to get from me? I haven't got . . . a big bank account."
He says he has had "grief" for speaking out.
"People in the street who know me are giving me dirty looks. I hear people saying things under their breath, because they believe the golden boy Brendan, because he had that smile on TV."
He says his mother went to her grave knowing her "golden boy" may have taken money from her.
"He was the golden boy, but not after she saw the bank statements and did the codicil. It broke her heart, but she didn't let people know. She didn't let him know.
"It was hard enough for her. She was going through enough pain as it was."
- Sunday Star Times