Church of Ireland parishioners puzzled by clemency shown to thief who embezzled £60,000 from church coffers
Church of Ireland parishioners whose former treasurer stole £60,000 from them are struggling to understand why a judge allowed her to walk free from court without having to pay back a single penny of the money she squandered.
Thief Lyndsey Bredin (27) frittered away the money on a car, holidays, restaurant meals and airline tickets – but will not spend a day in jail and was not ordered to pay any of her ill-gotten gains back.
The church said yesterday that the theft had been both "traumatic and painful" for its members in the Muff and Culmore parish in Londonderry and Donegal.
But the decision by Judge Philip Babington to suspend Bredin's 18-month jail sentence for two years has left parishioners bewildered and questioning the "appropriateness" of his verdict.
"The theft has been traumatic and painful for church members and we are continuing to work together to face both the financial loss and pastoral consequences of our former treasurer's breach of trust," a spokesman for the parishes said.
"Jesus's call to forgive and pray for those who have wronged us is difficult and challenging. We can only continue to pray for the strength to behave, as God would have us. We look forward to reading the judge's full ruling to understand the appropriateness of a suspended sentence for a theft of some £60,000."
Bredin – the mother of a two-month-old baby – stole the money from bereaved parishioners who had donated it to pay for a new roof for the Muff church in Donegal, Judge Babington said.
Donors believed they had bought slates in memory of loved ones – but the money was going into greedy Bredin's pocket. The Newbuildings woman blew the cash on hotels, a car, flights, weekends away and other luxuries. Despite this, the judge did not order Bredin to pay any money back.
Bredin has since joined a Methodist Church in Newbuildings. Yesterday, her new minister, Rev Richard Bryant, said Bredin had expressed remorse for her crimes to him. But he said Bredin had not discussed any intention to try to repay any of the money.
Rev Bryant said: "She has spoken to me of her remorse and she does regret her actions but she did not talk to me about restitution, so I have no idea whether she has any plans to repay the money.
"The decision to repay the money is something she is going to make herself, she cannot be forced into it and it is not one the court are mandating her to make."
Rev Bryant said "there are no winners in this".
But he accepted that the congregation of Culmore and Muff might view Bredin as a 'winner' as she has been able to steal their money and then walk from Derry Crown Court, free to get on with her life.
"It is difficult to walk the line that the church teaches us when it talks about forgiveness and justice in the same breath and within the church we deal with people who make bad decisions every day," he said.
STORY SO FAR
On Tuesday, Lyndsey Bredin pleaded guilty to 19 charges of stealing church funds over an 18-month period starting in March 2010. Bredin, from Primity Crescent in Newbuildings, Co Londonderry, spent the cash on a catalogue of luxuries. The judge said her crimes had adversely affected the financial future of the churches she stole from for a very long time into the future.