Belfast Telegraph

Banker who stole £100k from friend could face prison

By Donna Deeney

A man who stole £100,000 from a friend has been described as "a banking star that fell far".

Former bank manager Colum Lewis-Canning will find out today if he will spend Christmas behind bars.

Lewis-Canning (55), of Moneyrannel Road in Limavady, pleaded guilty to taking £100,000 from the account of a man he had dealt with on a professional basis since 2002, and had known for much longer.

Londonderry Crown Court was told that Lewis-Canning had persuaded Billy O'Neill, a successful businessman who owned a number of caravan parks, to switch his bank accounts over to the Ulster Bank when he became account manager at its Strand Road Branch in 2002.

In 2006 Lewis-Canning set up an investment company called Smart Invest and invited Mr O'Neill to buy shares which he agreed to do, handing over £100,000.

A year later Mr O'Neill was sent a letter telling him his investment was now worth £150,000 and asking if he wanted to invest further in Smart Invest, but he declined the offer. A prosecution barrister pointed out that in 2010 Mr O'Neill's accountant noticed a number of discrepancies in his accounts, where withdrawals of £12,500 on January 2008, £65,000 on March 2008 and £22,500 on February 2009 had been made.

Mr O'Neill, who had not authorised these withdrawals, rang Lewis-Canning and queried them and was told by the defendant that the £65,000 was for further investment in Smart Invest and £22,500 was for fees arising from account management.

The money had been used by Smart Invest to buy shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland - the parent company of Ulster Bank, where Lewis-Canning worked.

At this stage Mr O'Neill contacted the PSNI. It began an investigation during which it interviewed Lewis-Canning a number of times, but he insisted Mr O'Neill knew about the withdrawals from his account.

The case was brought to court in November 2012 when Lewis-Canning pleaded not guilty, but this was changed to guilty last month.

Defence barrister Eugene Grant QC told the court that Lewis-Canning has paid back £48,000 with an additional £12,500 ready to be transferred, and provision to repay the remaining £40,000 was also being made over the next six months.

Mr Grant explained that the offences took place against the backdrop of the roaring Celtic Tiger and boom times when "people lost the run of themselves" and that the professional relationship between Lewis-Canning and Mr O'Neill had become "blurred" because of their personal friendship.

He said that Lewis-Canning had been a man at the height of his banking career and a "star that has fallen far", but he was intending to pay back all of the money.

Judge Philip Babington adjourned sentencing for 24 hours to consider the "serious implications for all parties".

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