A 44-year-old woman, who stole over £4,000 from a charity group she was involved with, avoided a prison sentence last Wednesday at Craigavon Magistrates Court.
The judge told her that the fact the money could be repaid was the only thing that saved her from immediate custody.
At a previous court hearing Valerie Dale, Cottage Hill, Lurgan, pleaded guilty to five offences.
She admitted that between April 1, 2016, and February 28, 2017 she stole £1,500 belong to a group called the Young Women after Stroke.
Previously she had admitted stealing £2,540 from the same group between February 28, 2017, and April 1, 2017.
She also pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud by abuse of position and one charge of false accounting.
The case was adjourned until last Wednesday to obtain a pre-sentence report.
A public prosecutor said Dale worked as a co-ordinator with the Young Women after Stroke group and placed in charge of finances where she had access to the debit card.
A Stroke Association director noticed some concerning transactions and spoke with Dale concerning the account and lack of receipts.
At a later date they met again and she produced hand written notes, a receipt book, a lodgement book and two receipts which were not bona fide.
She also handed over an envelope containing £1,500 to cover withdrawals from an ATM fraudulently made with the debit card.
Dale also admitted giving £2,500 to her cousin who needed money to pay her mortgage and that her father would get a loan against his home to repay this money.
She accepted there was false accounting but claimed it was not malicious. There was still £2,540 outstanding.
A defence barrister said this was an ‘extremely grave case’ involving a charity where vulnerable people looked to her for help and trust and she had abused that trust.
The lawyer said Dale resigned but got another job and lost that as well so she was now unemployed.
He added that she had given money to a lady who had been having a hard time with mortgage arrears. This was £2,500 she gave to her and she shouldn’t have done so.
The barrister told the judge that the money was in the account of his instructing solicitor and could be paid back.
He explained that Dale was a carer for her father and her son depended on her and she was now on benefits.
“She has brought shame to herself and her family,” he commented and asked the judge not to compound this further by imprisoning her.
At this point Deputy District Judge Chris Holmes adjourned the court for a time.
When he returned he said he had listened to what the prosecution and defence counsel had said, read the pre-sentence report which was extremely helpful and also read all the papers in this case which were extensive.
“This sort of offending, especially involving a charity, was the height of a breach of trust,” he commented. “The papers were riven with acts of dishonesty and there was no doubt she was involved in multiple acts of active dishonesty.”
He added that the £2,500 had been given to a cousin, a family member, and not to someone she had met.
The judge said the fact that she handed over the £1,500 and £2,540 can be paid was the only thing that was saving her from immediate custody.
“She will leave the court with a significant stain on her character,” he added.
He said he had the options of community service, probation or a suspended sentence.
The judge added that he appreciated her son had care issues as did her father but there was a need to put something back into the community.
The judge imposed combination order of 100 hours community service and 18 months probation. He also ordered compensation of £2,540 to be paid within four weeks.