Coleraine social security worker ran elaborate benefits scam
A social security office worker who concocted an "elaborate" scam by arranging for benefits to be paid to people she knew, who would then give her the cash, was sentenced to six months in jail, suspended for three years, at Coleraine Magistrates Court on Thursday.
45-year-old mother-of-two Veronica Norton was working at the Coleraine benefits office in 2011 when she swindled £4,244 over a six months period and District Judge Liam McNally told her it was at the high end of breach of trust cases and ordered her to pay back "every penny".
Norton, whose address was given on court papers as Craiglea Gardens in Kilrea but is now living at Belmont Park in nearby Rasharkin, pleaded guilty to theft.
At a previous court four other charges - that she dishonestly abused her position by creating payments to the accounts of four people - were withdrawn by prosecutors.
In court on Friday a prosecutor said a report was made to the Department of Social Development alleging financial fraud in the Coleraine social security office regarding money being paid without proper authority and it became apparent that the then ex-member of staff Norton - who had worked there for 25 years - was involved during her time of employment.
The prosecutor said that in order for a payment to be raised a code must be submitted in paper form and then put in a computer and it should then go to an accuracy officer for verification and authorisation.
Payments were made to a number of individuals and in one case there was no paperwork to support the payment which was handled by Norton.
Norton told investigators she had split with her husband and was having financial difficulties and resorted to payday loans and was "not thinking straight" when she stole the money.
The prosecutor said Norton allocated money to people and she would then go to them and get the money from them.
The prosecutor said the defendant said she the people she received the money from received no payment for their role in the fraud.
Another payment made out to a person with the same surname as her own went into Norton's own post office account and a fourth payment was originally declined in the office but Norton successfully resubmitted the claim.
A reference was handed into court for Norton and her solicitor said she is a single mother of two teenagers after her marriage of 16 years had ended.
The solicitor said her client was in lots of debt which culminated in the offences which happened at a time when she had "mental health difficulties" and had stopped taking medication.
She said Norton had a completely clear record and "has never as much had a parking ticket".
The solicitor said that in 2012 Norton wrote to the department to apologise and said she would pay the money back at £7.50 per week and almost £1,000 has been recovered.
The solicitor said Norton is "extremely ashamed and remorseful" after working for 25 years without a blemish.
Imposing a suspended sentence, District Judge Liam McNally told Norton he was very concerned by the case which was at the high end of breach of trust cases.
He said she worked in a government department and "concocted" an "elaborate" scam to steal public money by sending it out to people who then forwarded it to her.
Outside court, Norton declined to comment.