A supervisor at an award-winning Belfast restaurant was caught cooking the books after his bosses discovered he had voided customers’ bills and pocketed cash totalling over £8,000.
Joseph Michael Hinds, 28, of Sandown Road in east Belfast, pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court to a single charge of fraud by abuse of his position at James Street South Bar and Grill in the city centre.
Prosecution lawyer Stephen McCourt said Hinds worked as a supervisor in the eaterie and one of his roles was to handle customers’ bills.
He told Belfast Crown Court that in 2016, the owners noticed that a customer had paid the bill in cash “but the food and drink was voided and Hinds appropriated the money’’.
Judge Geoffrey Miller QC heard that an internal review discovered that Hinds had committed the same offence 85 times, with a loss to owner and leading Northern Ireland chef Niall McKenna totalling £8,241.05.
When he was confronted by Mr McKenna and other senior management at a meeting in October 2016, Hinds admitted to the thefts and “resigned with immediate effect”.
The court heard Hinds stole the money as he got himself into financial difficulty after moving into new accommodation with his partner and trying to pay for a repair bill for damage to his car following an accident.
Defence counsel Jon Paul Shields said that Hinds’ mother had paid back in full the outstanding money to James Street South Bar and Grill.
“He will be responsible for paying back that money to his mother. This is not a bail out or a simple way of getting him off the hook. This is not something he is going to evade.”
Mr Shields said Hinds, who had been in the hospitality trade for 12 years, had now found himself in the position that his “career and character within the industry has now been damaged”.
“Everybody he knows within the industry now knows that he is not to be trusted. He single-handedly put himself in this position.
“He does appreciate that the difficulties he has created for himself will endure beyond any sentencing Your Honour is considering. He did something he is not very proud of and it is going to be very difficult for this defendant to try and fix.”
Judge Miller told Hinds he had carried out a “betrayal of trust on a family business’’ which had an effect on the owners and other staff.
The judge said if Hinds had been convicted after a contest, he would have jailed him for 14 months.
He added that taking into account his early guilty plea, his remorse and shame, and the fact the money had been paid in full, he would impose a sentence of nine months but would suspend the sentence for two years.