Belfast police officer took £52k from police safe and 'treated it as his own'
A policeman who stole more than £52,000 from a PSNI station will be sentenced in the new year.
Belfast Crown Court heard that Bryan Thomas Stronge, who at the time of the offending was Station Constable at Tennent Street police station, would take warrant money from the safe and "treat it as his own".
The 53-year old, from Coastguard Lane in Groomsport, initially denied taking the money and tried to cover up his criminality, before pleading guilty to the theft of £52,878.63. As a result, he has lost his career, partner, home and most of his pension.
Crown prosecutor Rosemary Walsh told how part of Stronge's role at the station was dealing with money warrants paid by defendants.
Setting out the case against him, Ms Walsh said: "For a period of two-and-a-half years, from the latter part of 2009 to the early part of 2012, the defendant was retrieving warrant monies from the safe but treating the money as his own."
The defendant's offending began to emerge in May 2011 when it came to the Court Office's attention that two warrants were shown to be paid but the money had not yet been received.
Stronge, who at the time was under no suspicion, claimed that neither the paperwork nor the money could be located at Tennent Street. He provided a statement in October 2011 in which he failed to implicate himself but speculated "other ways that could have resulted in the loss".
The prosecutor revealed that by early 2012, it was "clear that there were a large number of outstanding money warrants where payment had not reached the Court Service", which in turn prompted an investigation.
This probe found 374 outstanding warrants between November 2009 and February 2012.
Ms Walsh added that as Station Constable at the time, Stronge "was the only person who had responsibility at Tennent Street for monies that were paid into the safe and no one else would have handled the cash".
The court heard that when the defendant became a suspect and his bank account was examined, his work income as a serving police officer over the period in question along with cash lodgements totalled just over £41,000.
The accounts also showed Stronge's "expenditure regularly and substantially outweighed his legitimate income".
Defence barrister Frank O'Donoghue QC expressed an apology on behalf of his client "to anyone who was connected to his case".
While pointing out that in terms of the amount involved, "it is not the biggest sum of money to come before the courts in an employer/employee situation", Mr O'Donoghue acknowledged this was a breach of trust.
The barrister also insisted that prior to his offending, Stronge was an officer of "considerable experience and lengthy service" who was just two years from retirement, which would have included a £100,000 lump sum and a full pension, both of which have now been reduced.
Mr O'Donoghue also told Judge Kerr: "There will now be a portion of his pension lost for the 28 years' service that Mr Stronge has given, most of which has been impeccable and loyal in the midst of the Troubles."
The barrister said it was Stronge's intention to "repay the entirety of the amount", adding he began offending due to "crippling debts".
Finally, Mr O'Donoghue spoke of the "catastrophic effect" the crime has had on Stronge, who as a result of his own actions has lost his career, reputation, long-term partner, home, financial stability, a lump sum and a "substantial portion" of his pension.
After listening to submissions from both the Crown and defence, Judge Kerr adjourned sentencing until January 6 next year and released Stronge on continuing bail.