A woman who stole almost £50,000 from her employer claimed she did so while she was ‘under duress’ by a man in the UVF.
Helen McQuillan told police this person, who she refused to name, made threats towards her and her family.
She said he contacted her through letters left in a field behind her home and that was where she left the money.
McQuillan, of Magherafelt Road, Castledawson, pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position between June 2015 and July 2016.
Londonderry Crown Court heard that at that time the 48-year-old was employed as the wages clerk and book keeper for Select Kidz, a small firm based in Tobermore.
The owner of this company noticed almost £48,000 of unauthorised payments had been made from the business account.
This money was paid into two separate accounts under the control of McQuillan.
One of these accounts was identified as the account where McQuillan’s salary was paid and the other was in the name of her son.
The defendant was arrested and during police interview admitted stealing from her employer.
She claimed she was under duress by someone in the UVF.
The defendant refused to provide any further information about this person to police.
Defence counsel Michael Duffy told the court these offences are ‘clearly out of character’ for his client.
He said McQuillan is a ‘vulnerable’ woman who was ‘struggling to cope’ at this time.
The barrister said the 48-year-old was in a ‘close relationship’ with the person with the paramilitary links .
It was added that this person ‘controlled her’ to steal the money.
Mr Duffy said his client claimed this person had used domestic violence on her on three separate occasions in the past.
He added that McQuillan was able to pay compensation to the injured party immediately.
Passing sentence on McQuillan, Judge Phillip Babington said he accepted there was ‘undoubtedly some pressure’ on the defendant to act in this way.
He said this is a ‘serious case’ as McQuillan was ‘given a position of responsibility and you totally abused it’.
The judge ordered the 48-year-old to spend two years on probation to address her offending behaviour.
He also ordered McQuillan to pay £47,078.81 compensation within the next seven days.