Staff member pleads guilty to stealing £8k from top Northern Ireland restaurant
A supervisor at an award-winning Belfast restaurant was caught cooking the books after his bosses discovered he was voiding customers' bills and pocketing the cash, totalling over £8,000.
Joseph Michael Hinds (28), of Sandown Road in east Belfast, pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court to a single charge of fraud by abuse of his position at James Street South Bar and Grill in the city centre.
Prosecution lawyer Stephen McCourt said Hinds worked as a supervisor in the eaterie and one of his roles was to handle customers' bills.
He told Belfast Crown Court that in 2016, the owners noticed that a customer had paid the bill in cash "but the food and drink was voided and Hinds appropriated the money''.
Judge Geoffrey Miller QC heard that an internal review discovered that Hinds had committed the same offence on a total of 85 times, with a loss to owner and leading Northern Ireland chef Niall McKenna totalling £8,241.05.
When he was confronted by Mr McKenna and other senior management at a meeting in October 2016, Hinds admitted to the thefts and "resigned with immediate effect''.
Mr McCourt said police were notified and during interview without a solicitor present Hinds "showed remorse for what he had done to the business and for the money he had taken''.
Defence counsel Jon Paul Shields said that Mr McKenna, in a victim impact statement to the court, was "quite right to feel let down, to feel betrayed".
The court heard Hinds stole the money as he got himself into financial difficulty after moving into new accommodation with his partner and trying to pay for a repair bill for damage to his car following an accident.
Mr Shields said that Hinds' mother had paid back the outstanding money in full to James Street South Bar and Grill.
Judge Geoffrey Miller told Hinds that he had carried out a "betrayal of trust on a family business'' which had an affect on the owners and other staff.
The judge said if Hinds had been convicted after a contest, he would have jailed him for 14 months.
He added that taking into account his early guilty plea, his remorse and shame, and the fact the money had been paid in full, he would impose a sentence of nine months but would suspend the sentence for two years.
Judge Miller told Hinds: "If you commit any further offences over the next two years you will be going into prison and have no doubt about that.''