Ex-soldier did runner on his £1,600 hotel bill
A former soldier who ran up a £1,600 bill at a five-star hotel and left without paying has received a three-month suspended jail sentence.
Stephen McIlwaine checked into the luxury Culloden Estate and Spa on the outskirts of Belfast and stayed for up to three days before disappearing.
The 23-year-old ex-serviceman also filled up at a petrol stations five times in under two months and drove off without handing over any cash.
McIlwaine, of Westland Road, Belfast, admitted all the offences and is intent on playing the money back, the city's Magistrates Court heard.
He stayed at the Culloden between September 30 and October 3 last year, running up a bill of £1,592.80. Around £250 worth of petrol was also taken from garages in the Belfast area between September and November.
His solicitor stressed he was genuinely remorseful for his actions.
She revealed that McIlwaine had served in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan during a five-year military career.
After leaving the Army he worked as a driver for a period only to start suffering seizures, believed to be epilepsy, the court heard.
His medical condition was said to have been the catalyst for "his life going wrong" and a spiral of offending.
In an attempt to explain the Culloden incident, the lawyer added that he had loaned money to a military friend.
"He took the absolutely irresponsible decision to book himself into this hotel," she told the court.
"He did run up a considerable bill, but he thought he was going to get this money back to settle the bill."
The court heard how McIlwaine's life hit "rock bottom" after quitting the forces.
"This young man's pride, given his background of service to the country, wouldn't allow him to apply for benefits," the solicitor said.
"Over the Christmas period the British Legion had to help him out with food vouchers. That's how low he got."
Acknowledging McIlwaine's military contribution, District Judge Fiona Bagnall imposed a three-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, for leaving the hotel without paying.
For each of the petrol station thefts he was given concurrent one-month suspended terms.
Judge Bagnall also ordered him to pay a total of £1,852 in compensation.
She stressed: "He's going to have to make inroads into that."