He was the man that people in Strabane trusted to deliver their mail every morning. But postman Maurice William McClintock was also a callous and devious thief who stole dozens of letters after running up huge debts.
This week McClintock, who worked with Royal Mail for almost a decade, was spared jail after appearing in court charged with theft and interfering with mail.
In the words of his solicitor, he was hardly a criminal mastermind. But McClintock’s cruel actions meant that personal letters and greetings cards were never delivered.
His crimes came to light after colleagues discovered envelopes which had been opened and then discarded in his postal van.
McClintock was later dismissed from Royal Mail and has since been on benefits.
Omagh Crown Court heard the 33-year-old, of Ashbrook in Strabane, ran up huge debts and now owed creditors an estimated £26,000.
The court heard he suffered from a depressive illness and feelings of “inadequacy” compared to his “high-flying siblings”.
He had been employed by Royal Mail since June 2000, working in Derry city before moving to Strabane delivery office, where he was a reserve postman and helped to sort mail.
It was stated that McClintock had an otherwise “unblemished record” and was “nothing other than an exemplary employee”.
But in early 2009 a colleague discovered two opened envelopes stuffed in the driver’s door of a postal van McClintock had been using.
One contained a birthday card and a smaller envelope had a £10 gift card and receipt inside.
After being reported to officials, an integrity test was set up and, after being caught stealing two test letters, he was arrested.
During interview McClintock also admitted opening the letter in the postal van and a further 10 which were found in his own car.
Some of the letters had been addressed to “Great Granny McBride”, “Wee Douglas McNulty” and “The Doherty Family”.
McClintock claimed to have been suffering financial hardship and admitted the thefts began around two months before he was caught.
Defence solicitor Joe McCann admitted it had been “a very mean and selfish crime”.
“Postmen are placed in a position of great trust,” he told the court. “This sort of activity erodes public confidence in the integrity of the postal system.”
However, he said his client had made “a full and frank admission”, including offences which would not otherwise have come to light.
Mr McCann said it had been a “somewhat disorganised enterprise”.
“The company initially became aware after discarded opened envelopes were found in the work van,” he added. “That recklessness does not speak of a criminal mastermind.”
Mr McCann said McClintock was suffering financial difficulties and currently had debts of around £26,000.
He said his client had lost his job, his chances of re-employment and was now on benefits.
He added McClintock’s actions had been “a gross error of judgment”.
Passing sentence, Judge Philip Babington said considerable trust was placed in postmen to deliver mail.
“Royal Mail is the victim, its reputation is tarnished by your behaviour,” he told McClintock.
His actions, the judge said, had let down his fellow staff.
“The amounts may not seem great, but it does not outweigh the seriousness of tampering with mail,” he added.
Mr Babington said McClintock’s actions meant some people did not receive greetings cards “which may have meant a great deal”.
The judge sentenced McClintock to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years.
He also ordered McClintock to pay £200 in compensation to cover the loss of items he took.
A Royal Mail spokesman declined to comment on the case but said the company took the security of mail very seriously.
“We cannot comment on individual personnel issues but Royal Mail has a zero-tolerance approach to any dishonesty and this stance is shared by the overwhelming majority of our people who are honest and hard-working,” he said.
“We take the security of our mail very seriously and this case underlines that fact by demonstrating how our dedicated security teams work closely with the police to pursue the tiny minority of people who are dishonest in our business.”