Police officer who stole over £50k from own Belfast station spared jail
A policeman who pocketed over £52,000 of warrant money from a Belfast PSNI station has been spared jail, after he received a suspended sentence on Friday.
Passing sentence at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Gordon Kerr said that former officer Bryan Thomas Stronge had lost his job, his relationship and his reputation as a result of his criminality, and that he had "disgraced himself."
The 54-year old, from Coastguard Lane in Groomsport, was handed an 18-month prison sentence, which was suspended for two years, after it emerged he has paid back all the money he stole.
Citing Stronge's offending as a "serious breach of trust", Judge Kerr QC said the money was stolen for Stronge's own benefit, adding the father of two had an "inability to manage money."
Stronge was due to be sentenced for the theft of £52,878.63 warrant money last December. However, sentencing was deferred for six months to allow Stronge to pay back the money he stole - which he has now done.
At the previous hearing at Belfast Crown Court last December, Judge Kerr was told that the offending was committed over a sustained period.
Stronge - who at the time of the offending was Station Constable at Tennant Street police station - would take warrant money from the safe and "treat it as his own."
Stronge started his police career in 1987, but in the latter years he was assigned as Station Constable at Tennant Street due to a traffic accident.
Revealing that part of this role was dealing with money warrants paid by defendants, Judge Kerr heard that when Stronge began in this position the payment system was paper-based.
This involved the police officer who had executed the warrant issuing a receipt to the defendant, then placing the warrant and money in a safe at the station. Stronge, in his position as Station Constable, would then empty the safe, and while the warrant details were entered into a form the money was lodged initially at the Northern Bank, but later with the District Finance Office.
In March 2010, the system changed and all the details of warrants and their status were dealt with electronically through a system that could be accessed by both the PSNI and the Court Service. Despite the electronic upgrade, money was still paid into the safe and was emptied by Stronge.
A prosecutor revealed: "For a period of approximately 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."
Stronge's offending began to emerge in May 2011 when it come to the Court Office's attention that two warrants were shown to be paid but the money had not yet been received by the Court Service.
Stronge - who at the time was under no suspicion whatsoever - claimed that neither the paperwork nor the money could be located at Tennent Street. He provided a witness statement in October 2011 in which he failed to implicate himself but which speculated other ways that could have resulted in the loss of the warrant money.
By early 2012 it was clear there were a large number of outstanding money warrants where payment had not reached the Court Service which in turn prompted an investigation.
This investigation revealed there were 374 outstanding warrants between November 2009 and February 2012 amounting to just over £53,000. During this time, Stronge was the only person who had responsibility at Tennant Street for money that was paid into the safe and no-one else would have handled the cash.
Despite his initial denials, Stronge subsequently pleaded guilty to a single charge of theft.
A defence barrister said 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 plus a full pension - both of which have been subsequently cut due to the theft.