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PSNI credit union hired bent banker Colum Lewis Canning

By Deborah McAleese

A top banker convicted of stealing £100,000 from a wealthy client was brought in by the PSNI's credit union as an advisor while under police investigation, the Belfast Telegraph has learned.

Former Ulster Bank manager Colum Lewis Canning was charged and later convicted of stealing the money from the bank account of a millionaire customer.

While awaiting trial for theft last year he was asked to carry out work in an advisory capacity for the Harp and Crown Credit Union, which is for serving and former police officers.

It is understood his assistance was requested by the Harp and Crown's secretary John Montgomery, a private detective and former RUC officer. Canning's advisory role within the credit union was terminated when a senior official became aware of his pending trial.

The revelations have raised serious questions over the credit union's vetting policy for employees and those who work in an advisory capacity.

The Harp and Crown has insisted that once its board of directors became aware of the allegations against Canning the "relationship" with him was brought to an end.

However, Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said the membership of the Harp and Crown would be "deeply concerned" by the revelations.

"This raises questions over how well individuals brought into the organisation are vetted. That is an issue for the membership of the Harp and Crown to fix," said Mr Craig.

The DUP MLA added: "What sort of a message does this send out? I must say, I am shocked that this happened."

Independent MLA John McCallister said it was "embarrassing" for the Harp and Crown.

"It is just crazy that this could happen. Surely there should have been some level of vetting that would have flagged up a potential problem."

The Harp and Crown Credit Union was set up in 1998 for Northern Ireland's police officers. Its board of directors include serving police officers and members of the Police Federation. Today it has a membership of over 9,200.

The secretary of the Harp and Crown, John Montgomery, said Canning's assistance was "sought in July 2014 on an ad-hoc basis, to help us with responses to new legislation and regulation required by the PRA/FCA (the Prudential Regulation Authority and Financial Conduct Authority)."

He said that at this time Canning was "still serving as a director and office bearer in several financial institutions".

Mr Montgomery added that at the beginning of August 2014 the credit union's board of directors "became aware of the nature of the allegations against Mr Canning."

He said: "It was then made abundantly clear to Mr Canning that until his court case was resolved we could no longer continue our relationship with him."

Canning - who has insisted he is innocent of the theft and has launched a campaign to clear his name - told the Belfast Telegraph: "The request to give financial guidance and direction was genuinely welcomed by me and very positive and meaningful feedback was received".

The former investment banker received a nine-month suspended jail term for plundering money from the bank account of his customer, Portstewart businessman William O'Neill. The court heard that in 2008 he invested £78,000 of Mr O'Neill's money without his permission in a property investment company called Smartinvest that he had set up.

When the property market started to collapse Canning, a senior manager with the Ulster Bank at the time, used Mr O'Neill's money to buy shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland.

However, last month Canning said he was innocent and was going to clear his name.

The Police Ombudsman has agreed to reinvestigate the police probe into the father-of-two after the Limavady man lodged a complaint.

Belfast Telegraph

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