Former GAA star Johnny McGurk jailed for £572,000 theft from employers

Johnny McGurk stole the money from his employers to fund a gambling addiction
Johnny McGurk stole the money from his employers to fund a gambling addiction

A former All-Ireland GAA winner who gambled away over half a million pounds he had stolen from his employer in a bid to recreate the buzz he got similar to his Croke Park success, has been sentenced for 30 months.

John (Johnny) Malachy McGurk won the All-Ireland with Derry in 1993 but years later became a gambling addict and then a thief while an accountant for one of Northern Ireland’s best-known construction firms.

Antrim Crown Court had heard that the thefts by McGurk, from Drummuck Road near Maghera, brought the family-run quarry and tarmac firm of Patrick Bradley Ltd of Kilrea to the verge of bankruptcy.

In all the 50-year-old company accountant pleaded guilty to the theft of of £572,206 from Bradley’s and 34 other charges involving fraud by abuse of his position of trust from July 2006 until the end of 2011.

Passing sentence Judge Desmond Marrinan said McGurk later told experts he was placing single bets of up to £3,000 a time and the thrill of the wins was “like playing football again”.

However, he told McGurk had “almost wrecked” the firm and for a long time it had been at risk of financial collapse.

The judge said like many top-level sports stars, after his playing days ended, it appeared the “excitement and the thrill one gets out of playing at the very highest level needed to be replaced with something” and McGurk became a gambling addict.

His downfall, he added, showed how “a decent man can ruin his life by succumbing to the seductive siren call of gambling”.

The judge said the defendant may have harboured an honest but unrealistic view that he could have paid the money back “with the next roll of the dice”.

He also accepted there was no evidence that McGurk had spent the money on an extravagant house, cars or holidays and that he had even emptied £38,000 from his joint account with his wife to spend on gambling.

It was, he said, a “very sad and distressing case” which had an addiction to gambling at its heart, leading to McGurk stealing from Bradley’s where he had been the firm’s highly trusted full-time accountant for 18 years.

Judge Marrinan said no doubt McGurk’s fame in the community had helped him get the “generously paid” post at the well-established firm which was set up in 1942 and employed 75 people.

However, in 2011, as a result of suspicions that money was being stolen McGurk was confronted and he admitted initially he had taken £50,000 and was escorted off the premises.

Judge Marrinan said the case had devastated McGurk’s life and he accepted the defendant is shamed and remorseful and had lost his “good name”, and the case had seriously damaged his marriage.

The court heard a report described McGurk as a “pathological” gambler and after his addiction was uncovered he had sought counselling and attended Gamblers Anonymous.

The judge said while McGurk, without any other blot on his character, deserved credit for a guilty plea and his assistance to police, the custody threshold was passed, with no reason to suspend the sentence.

Imposing the custody/licence sentence, he added that normally there would be a 50/50 split, but in this case he ordered McGurk serve 10 months without remission, in the hope he would come out of prison “chastened”, followed by 20 months licenced supervision to help “kill off this addiction”.

He said he wanted to make it clear to the Bradley company directors that his decision in no way devalued the suffering they had endured.

The judge noted McGurk was not able to make recompense to the firm which had lost a huge amount of money.

McGurk, who provided the court with references from a range of GAA officials, clergy, an unnamed former Irish rugby international and an unnamed senior unionist politician, showed no emotion as he was led off to begin serving his sentence.