A former Church of Ireland treasurer who stole almost £60,000 of church funds and frittered it away on a car, holidays, hotels, plane tickets and restaurant bills has walked from court after being handed a suspended sentence.
Lyndsey Bredin (27) from Londonderry pleaded guilty to 19 charges of stealing church funds over an 18-month period starting in March 2010.
Bredin – who was honorary treasurer of the Church of Ireland's Culmore and Muff parish – has not paid back a penny of the money she stole, leaving her former church in a financially precarious position.
Bredin had stolen the money from parishioners who had donated it to pay for a new roof for the Muff church in Donegal, Judge Babington said. Donors who bought slates in memory of loved ones gave their details to Bredin.
"It seems not only did the defendant steal the money donated, but she also destroyed all the records of the messages with these donations," the judge told the Crown Court in Derry.
"It is also apparent that the defendant has destroyed various documentation which should normally be retained and generally it can be said her offending has caused stress and hardship to the families who worship at these churches."
Bredin, from Primity Crescent in Newbuildings, in the Waterside area, spent the cash on a catalogue of luxuries.
"It seems she used the money to pay for her own utility bills, but generally used the monies for what can be termed non-essential matters such as restaurants, weekends away, hotels and even the purchase of a car," the judge said.
"It seems that not only did she pay for herself on occasions but on occasions also paid for others who were enjoying themselves with her," he said.
"She purchased a motor vehicle, she spent weekends away, she paid for airline tickets and on occasions paid the bills of others involved in the same activity,"
Bredin was sentenced to 18 months in jail, suspended for three years, yesterday.
Bredin, who has a two-month-old son, showed no emotion when Judge Philip Babington told her that he was suspending her sentence "not without hesitation".
She was accompanied in court by her partner, who is the father of her son, family members and Rev Richard Bryant of Newbuildings Methodist Church where Bredin now worships.
Judge Babington said he found it "disappointing and hurtful" that Bredin had accused the church she defrauded of "not providing her with the support she needed in relation to her abusive marriage and now attends a different church where she feels more supported".
"It was stealing from those who she knew, her fellow parishioners, and putting in jeopardy plans to re-roof one of the churches.
"Furthermore it is clear that her offending has adversely affected the financial future of the churches for a very long time into the future," he said.
He added: "After very careful consideration and deliberation I have come to the conclusion that I should give you the benefit of the doubt and therefore, not without hesitation, I intend to suspend the operation of these sentences for a period of three years."
Lyndsey Bredin told the church she was suffering from ME and stood down as treasurer in November 2011. That same month the parish rector reported concerns to police about money going missing. Bredin handed in one page of accounts with no receipts or invoices and this was deemed unsatisfactory. A retired accountant was brought in to carry out an audit and the offences came to light.