A Co Down solicitor has been jailed for nine months after he admitted defrauding a bank out of £400,000 and using funds from a law firm to buy himself an investment apartment in England.
Passing sentence at Craigavon Crown Court, Judge Patrick Lynch QC told David Annett that his “betrayal of trust cannot be overlooked in this case”.
Annett, 38, of Church Road, Dromara, had pleaded guilty to defrauding the First Trust Bank over a £400,000 mortgage, two counts of theft and transferring over £110,000 of criminal property out of his employer’s business account.
Stating that the “custody threshold had been met’’, Judge Lynch said Annett’s defence QC Alan Kane had previously made the case that it was a case of “highly exceptional circumstances’’ which would have allowed the court not to send him immediately to prison.
Mr Kane had contended these circumstances were that Annett had walked into Lurgan police station with his solicitor and “held his hands up’’ to his criminal conduct, his previous good character and also that he had been diagnosed with suffering from multiple sclerosis.
But Judge Lynch told the court: “I don’t regard this case as one which falls into that category of highly exceptional circumstances.’’
He said Annett’s offending had had a significant impact on the firm of solicitors he was working for at the time, J P Hagan in Portadown, who he described as “respected solicitors in this area”.
A victim impact statement from senior partner Sean O’Hagan said that as result of Annett’s criminal conduct, he was subjected to a Law Society investigation, the first in his 48 years as a solicitor, and he also had the PSNI Fraud Squad searching his office.
Mr O’Hagan said that as a result his professional standing had been damaged and he had clients contacting him to withdraw money he had held on their behalf.
Judge Lynch said this victim impact statement had highlighted Annett’s “betrayal of trust” which had been placed in him by senior partners in the firm.
He added: “After taking all the matters into consideration, the appropriate sentence on counts one and two of fraud by false representation is one of the 18 months – that will be nine months in custody and nine months on licence.’’
Annett received concurrent sentences of 12 months for theft and a further six months for transferring criminal property.