A 28-year old man who told police that he spent £28,000 that he stole from Danske Bank on ‘drink, drugs, Amsterdam and fine girls’ was spared jail on Friday.
Judge Stephen Fowler QC handed Clarke Robert McCrea a six-month sentence and said that with a “degree of hesitancy” he was suspending it for two years.
McCrea, a carer from McCandless Street in the Shankill area of Belfast, is one of a number of people to appear before Belfast Crown Court charged with theft from Danske Bank.
He stole a total of £28,391 between September 6 and 7, 2017 at time when there were technical difficulties with the bank in Denmark.
The technical issue affected ATMs and meant Danske Bank customers were able to withdraw unlimited funds from their accounts, regardless of how much was in their accounts.
Around 1,500 Danske bank customers subsequently withdrew around £1.6m in excess of available funds during the ‘malfunction period.’
Crown prosector Natalie Pinkerton said that McCrea withdrew £23,391 by using seven separate ATMs in Belfast on 120 occasions in the space of three hours and 34 minutes.
Ms Pinkerton said that when the malfunction and the withdrawals came to light, the PSNI was informed and spreadsheet was provided which showed all the ATMs affected and the money withdrawn.
When he was arrested and interviewed, McCrea said he initially used an ATM to withdraw money from his account, and when he used the machine again it gave him extra money - so he put his card in again and it kept giving him cash.
Ms Pinkerton revealed that when police asked what he spent the money on, McCrea told officers it went on “drink, drugs, Amsterdam and fine girls”.
And when asked if he had £28,000 in his account at the time, McCrea said the money could have come from a betting account he had, or from benefits being paid.
The prosecutor concluded the Crown case by telling Judge Fowler McCrea has 26 previous convictions which include dishonesty offences.
Defence barrister Richard McConkey said McCrea has already contacted the bank and has “shown a willingness” to repay the money, but this has not been possible yet due to the criminal proceedings.
He said: “Whilst it is unrealistic that he will pay it all back, he had been making efforts.”
Mr McConkey said that at the time of the offending, McCrea was misusing drugs, adding he was now “combatting” this issue.
The defence barrister acknowledged that while his client had a relevant criminal record, he pointed out the last offence was eight years ago, and said a new partner was helping to keep McCrea “on the straight and narrow”.
Judge Fowler expressed concern about McCrea’s criminal record but acknowledged much of his offending was committed whilst he was a youth.
The judge also said that whilst the custody threshold was passed, others who have appeared on similar offences have not been sent to jail immediately. He said that “for the purposes of consistency” and with “a degree of hesitation”, he was suspending the six-month jail term.
Before allowing McCrea to leave the court, Judge Fowler warned him to stay out of trouble for the next to years, or he would go to prison.