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Jailed: Gambling addict who stole £80k from her employer

By Nevin Farrell

A woman who stole £80,000 from her employer to feed her online gambling addiction was jailed for nine months at Antrim Crown Court yesterday.

Julie O'Connell (38), of Corkey Road, Loughgiel, had stolen the cash over a four-year period from 2010 and tried to disguise the theft by sending cheques and bank transfers to accounts belonging to members of her family.

Mother-of-one O'Connell admitted 12 charges of fraud by abuse of her position. She worked in the accounts department of the former Sunstart Bakery in Ballymena, which once supplied own-brand goods such as wheat-free shortbread to retailers such as Lidl, Tesco and Holland & Barrett.

Earlier this year it was reported the Sunstart Bakery had closed with the loss of 15 jobs after the owner went bankrupt.

Sentencing O'Connell, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said the offences were a "serious breach of trust" after she developed a gambling habit and diverted money from the firm.

A previous court was told the amount taken was £80,000, but that £15,500 of that had been paid back.

Said the judge: "She was trusted with the money and she abused that trust."

He said it appeared the defendant used bank accounts belonging to two family members to make lodgements in an "attempt to disguise" her theft.

The judge said the firm was left with a loss of £64,500 and there was no possibility of getting the cash back from O'Connell, who is unemployed.

Judge Kerr said the mother of a teenage child had no previous convictions, and had pleaded guilty at an early stage.

The judge said O'Connell had kept her gambling going and her losses were covered by ongoing thefts. He said the defendant had expressed remorse.

The same court heard last week that on March 12, 2014, bakery owner Hubert Kerr noticed some financial discrepancies in his business account involving the unauthorised transfer of monies, approximately £15,500, from an account controlled by O'Connell.

Prosecutor Michael Chambers said the defendant admitted making the transfer, and later handed over £7,000 followed by a further £8,500.

It was decided to carry out a more through investigation, which uncovered a large number of other transfers.

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