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Swindling DUP man who ripped off taxpayer via Assembly to fill own oil tank avoids prison

By Eamonn MacDermott

Published 02/04/2016

William Irwin outside court yesterday
William Irwin outside court yesterday
Lord Hay

A former DUP member of Derry City Council has been given a suspended sentence at the city's Magistrates Court for 23 charges of fraud arising out of oil deliveries being charged to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

William Irwin (55), of Duncastle Road in Newbuildings, admitted the offences, which occurred between March 2009 and February 2014.

The court was told that Irwin was the constituency office manager for former Assembly Speaker William Hay in Derry. He is Mr Hay's brother-in-law.

In 2014 the BBC made Freedom of Information requests regarding MLA expenses. Mr Hay subsequently noticed discrepancies between the amount of oil delivered and the amount charged for.

He voiced his concerns to the clerk of the Assembly and was advised to go to the police.

Mr Irwin was suspended after an investigation was launched. It was subsequently discovered that some of the signatures for the oil were different from Mr Hay's regular signature.

The probe also found that the capacity for the oil tank at the DUP office was 1,100 litres, while Irwin's was 2,200 litres.

Some of the deliveries were in excess of the DUP office's storage capacity.

The court heard that on 23 occasions Irwin had oil delivered to his home while charging the DUP office - and therefore the Assembly - for it.

On most occasions he had oil delivered simultaneously to the office and his home, but in some instances it was delivered straight to his property. The amount of money involved was put at £8,939.

When interviewed, Irwin said he had oil delivered on two occasions in lieu of expenses he believed he was owed. He accepted that Speaker Mr Hay was unaware of this, but he believed he would have permitted it if he had known.

Defence barrister Mark Reel said that his client accepted full responsibility for his actions. He said that he was in financial difficulties at the time, but added that this in no way excused his actions.

Mr Reel also stressed that Irwin had already refunded £5,000 to the Assembly and intended to repay the rest immediately.

The barrister submitted references from various community bodies in the city, including the Inner City Trust and the City Centre Initiative, all praising Irwin's positive impact on the community. One reference described him as "an unsung hero" for his efforts to resolve tensions around parading.

Deputy District Judge Noel Dunlop said the crimes amounted to "serious offences and a gross breach of trust" and were aggravated by the fact that they had been committed over a long period of time.

But he also accepted that the defendant had contributed to the community and had no previous convictions for dishonesty.

Irwin was sentenced to six months in prison on each charge, to run concurrently, but the term was suspended for two years. The defendant was also ordered to pay £8,939 in compensation.

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