Accountant who stole £250k from Belfast firm jailed

Scales of Justice
Scales of Justice

The former accountant of the now defunct S&R Electrics who stole over £250,000 from the Belfast business started a 15-month stint behind bars on Wednesday.

William George Reid - whose actions over a five-year period contributed to the closure of the family-run company - used some of the money to fund normal living expenses but “also squandered it on socialising”.

As well as stealing a total of £253,650.31 from his employers, Reid also stole around £17,500 from North Down Hockey Club.

Handing the 65-year old a sentence of two years and six months, half of which will be spent in prison with the remainder on licence when he is released, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC said the biggest concern for the court was the impact Reid’s offending had on his fellow colleagues in S&R, who lost their jobs when the business was forced to close.

The company, which employed around 20 people, was situated on the Holywood Road, and used the catchline ‘Sam’s Yer Man for a Bargain’ in its advertising campaigns.

Judge Miller told Belfast Crown Court that whilst Reid was a man of previous good character, “he is now a convicted thief and his reputation for honesty has gone, and gone forever.”

From Movilla Street in Newtownards, Reid admitted 16 offences committed over a period from April 2008 until June 2013, when his criminal activity began to emerge. The charges include fraud by abuse of position, theft and forgery.

Telling the court Reid’s motivation was greed, Judge Miller said: “He had been working for S&R Electrics for three years when he began to systematically defraud the company. His position as accountant allowed him to syphon off large sums of money, with no detection for years.”

Regarding the theft of money from the hockey club, the Judge said Reid abused the position and trust placed upon him as the club’s honorary treasurer.

Prosecuting barrister Peter Magill said that during his eight-year employment with S&R Electrics, Reid “was the person in charge of all accounting.”

Mr Magill revealed Reid’s criminality came to light when the company’s manager came across two cheques made out to hotels in the Republic in her forged signature. Police were contacted and an investigation was launched, which highlighted Reid’s lengthy period of offending.

The prosecutor said: “Further investigations showed cheques from S&R Electrics written to North Down Hockey Club, and vice versa.”

Reid also set up a fake bank account into which money from the Club was lodged. He told Club officials this was an investment account - and even prepared false bank statements to hide the fact he was stealing money.

Mr Magill said that when he was arrested, Reid made full admissions to police, adding it seemed that while some of the cash was used for normal living expenses, he also “squandered it on socialising.”

The prosecutor ended the Crown’s case against the father of two and grandfather of five by saying that whilst his actions are not the sole reason S&R closed, his criminality was certainly a “contributory factor.”

Defence barrister Michael Duffy told Judge Miller that the man in the dock came before the court with a clear criminal record and with nothing pending.

Saying his client’s “path to downfall was simple”, Mr Duffy said that after taking a pay cut around 2007, “rather than cut the cloth to suit the means, dishonest activity was entered into.” Motivated by “simple greed”, Reid said the offending “got easier” and as he “wasn’t caught, he simply continued.”

Mr Duffy said the money was not used to fund a lavish lifestyle, adding: “He has got nothing to show for it now, expect for disgrace, shame, humiliation, remorse and regret.”

The defence barrister asked the Judge to take into account Reid’s good background and work record, saying that up to the offending Reid had contributed to society and led an exemplary life.

Mr Duffy told the court Reid’s remorse - which he first expressed during police interviews - was genuine, and said: “He reiterates publicly and fully that he is very sorry and ashamed at his actions, and the shame he has brought on his family.”

The barrister also spoke of a deterioration in Reid’s physical and mental health since his arrest in October 2013, part of which was an “emotional burden” of how his behaviour affected others.

As he sentenced Reid, Judge Miller said the “fraudulent activity” and greed of the company’s accountant played a significant factor in the company going out of business after trading for 25 years, with the loss of around 20 jobs.

Judge Miller also noted the impact the theft of £17,500 would have on a small organisation such as North Down Hockey Club by a “valued and trusted member.”

Handing Reid a two-and-a-half year sentence, Judge Miller said there had been “no steps taken by him to make some form of recompense” before telling the prison staff “take him down please.”