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Couple steal 100k from credit union.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

A COUPLE from Banbridge stole almost 100,000 from a credit union causing its bankruptcy, a court has heard.

Alastair Winton (31) was sentenced to three months in prison last week for stealing credit in various bank accounts totalling almost 40k over a 14-month period.

His partner Christina Graham (28) who admitted stealing almost 60,000 over a two year period and possessing articles for use in theft will be sentenced in the New Year.

Newry Crown Court heard both defendants, who have two children together, had "abused their position of trust" in the Lower Iveagh Credit Union in Dromore. Graham was named as a director and treasurer while Winton was an assistant secretary, loans officer and teller.

Their actions had a "devastating impact" on the community of Dromore, the court heard, as over 400 savers were left wondering if they were ever going to see their money again.

All the savers eventually got their money back under the government's Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS).

Judge Melody McReynolds said: "These were members of your own community, who you know, did not know if their savings were lost altogether. These are thefts from people in your own community," she told Winton.

However, despite the couple maintaining for months that they had borrowed the money as a loan and intended to pay it back, no restitution had been made or is likely to be made by the couple.

The irregularity in accounts first came to light in 2014 when the credit union failed to submit its annual accounts for the year to September 2012.

Their external accountant noticed a number of blank cheque stubs and when it was put to Graham to order them from the bank, she failed to do so.

When the cheques were obtained from the bank, it showed cheques to the value of 35,000 were issued to Graham and 33,900 to Winton.

When the credit union was liquidated in November 2014, a month after police searched both defendant's homes, "considerable time and resource" was spent trying to find out why the loan and share balances appeared to be materially incorrect.

Despite being a couple and living together, at the time of the offences Winton had a separate address at Iveagh Drive while Graham lived at Huntly Mews.

During this time and after being spoken to by police, Winton said he was aware he had loans with the credit union but he "did not know how much for as the computer system was not working". He said Graham had access to his bank account and kept his bank card.

Both Winton and Graham maintained there was "documentation to show the money were loans and they would be repaid, thus they were not thefts".

The court heard credit union policy was to allow loans for three times a member's savings and the amount had to be signed off by two people - one of whom was Graham.

The other signatory told police she would have "sometimes signed blank cheques" for Graham to use in case she was unavailable but expected her to use them "in good faith".

Winton had 115.14 savings and had 'loans' of 15,832.77 while Graham, who had savings of 292.34, had 'loans' totalling 18,988.17.

Police uncovered 38 fraudulent payments to Graham and 21 to Winton. The total money from both "not received as loans" was 99,173.

Winton used the money for "bills, a holiday to Portrush and Christmas presents".

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said the "loans within the credit union breached the rules" and there was "poor record keeping".

The prosecution said that while the responsibility of record keeping rested with the eight board members including Graham, she "took advantage of it [her position] to cover up the thefts".

The PPS agreed Winton had "a less involved role than Graham but nevertheless did participate and took advantage of what she started and he benefited from almost 40,000".

Defence counsel Terry Mc- Donald QC said Winton suffered from poor health and handed in a number of medical reports to the court which he said represented "a summary of a number of conditions that he suffers from".

Winton worked for the credit union on a "cash-in-hand" basis and he had not had another job for seven years.

The court heard the couple spent the money and together with their own personal circumstances "made it impossible to repay".

Judge Melody McReynolds said it appeared from the probation report Winton had a "limited grasp of the harm that was inflicted by you" and reminded him that "members of your own community, who you know, did not know if their savings were lost altogether".

"These are thefts from people in your own community," she told Winton.

While taking into account "his clear record, relatively early plea, family responsibility and medical conditions" Ms McReynolds found a "custodial sentence to be appropriate".

"The culpability is of a lesser role in your case but there is considerable harm to the public," she told Winton, adding the savers who had been affected were of "relatively modest means" and sentenced him to three months in prison.

 

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