Belfast Telegraph

Woman who claimed UVF forced her to steal gets probation

By George Jackson

A 48-year-old year old vulnerable woman who told the police that the UVF forced her to steal from her employer was put on probation for two years at the Crown Court in Derry on Tuesday.

Helen McQuillan from Magherafelt Road in Castledawson, who is the mother of three grown up children all of whom are adult dependent, pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud by abuse of a position of trust.

While working as a bookkeeper, she committed the offence between June 2015 and July 2015 by lodging just over £47,000 of her employer's money into her bank account and into another account in her son's name to which she had access.

McQuillan admitted stealing the money from the Select Kidz clothing retail company based in Magherafelt. She had been the company's bookkeeper for eighteen months when the offence was detected.

A prosecution barrister told Judge Philip Babington that on July 16 of last year the business owner reported to the police that he suspected McQuillan had taken the money from his company. He said his accountant examined the books and found that McQuillan had made unauthorised payments of £47,000.

McQuillan was interviewed by the police on August 5 of last year and made full admissions. She told the police she took the money when she was put under duress by persons she refused to name.

"She told the police they were members of the UVF and that they contacted her by leaving notes in a field behind her house", the prosecutor said.

"The police position is that, because she would not name the man who put her under duress, there is no evidence to corroborate it. The police have nothing to go on other than what was said by the defendant during her interview. Therefore the police cannot properly investigate it", the barrister said.

Defence barrister Michael Duffy said McQuillan, who worked with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs for twelve years, had self harmed as a teenager, and her marriage broke up after eighteen years.

"She struggled to cope with difficult personal and domestic commitments after the break up of her marriage", he said.

Mr. Duffy said McQuillan became involved in a relationship with a man after her marriage had ended. She had lent him money but he didn't repay her.

"She became increasingly under his influence and control. The man was involved in that paramilitary organisation", he said.

"Direct and implicit threats were made against her and her family and she became very frightened. It is now clear this was a cleverly planned and ruthlessly performed manipulation of a vulnerable lady", he said.

"There were also three incidents of physical domestic violence by this person committed against her", Mr. Duffy said.

The defence barrister said McQuillan wanted to repay the full amount she'd stolen from her former employer. To enable herself to do that, he said McQuillan had sold her home to her father and a trust was set up to care for her three children. There was money from the sale of the house to fully repay the entire amount.

"She has been living in dread of a custodial sentence, not because of the consequences for her having to go to jail but because of the consequences for her three children. She has struggled all of her life to take care of her children despite her own difficulties. The clear vulnerability of her situation left her quite isolated. This was someone who, because she was isolated and did not have a social circle, was an easy target for a strong person to manipulate", he said.

Judge Babington said that, with some hesitation, he accepted the case was exceptional in that a jail sentence would not be imposed.

"I feel there was undoubtedly some pressure on you to act in this way. I do not feel someone would have behaved in this way without something strange happening and I feel there was some pressure on you to act in this way", he said.

As well as imposing the two year Probation Order, Judge Babington issued a compensation order of £47,000 to be paid within seven days to McQuillan's ex-employer.

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