Belfast Telegraph

Woman who stole £7,000 from dead stepfather's bank account avoids jail

BY PAUL HIGGINS

A self-confessed fraudster who cleared her dead stepfather's bank account of almost £7,000 to buy a family holiday and concert tickets has walked free from court with a suspended prison term.

Samantha Brown (43) began emptying the account with a debit card five days after Raymond Leech's death out of what the judge described as an "ill-placed sense of entitlement".

Brown was sentenced at Antrim Crown Court yesterday but avoided a prison sentence after Judge Desmond Marrinan said sending her there would "would be catastrophic".

Freeing the mother, the judge said while her offences warranted a jail sentence, he was taking account of the fact the she had a clear record and looked after her daughter and mother.

The court also heard she had been given the card and PIN number by Mr Leech when she was his main carer in the months leading up to his death.

"While the court must be critical, seriously critical, of what you did," said the judge, "I'm prepared to accept that this wasn't done out of a sense of greed... perhaps an ill-placed sense of entitlement."

Brown, from Millfield in Ballymena, had previously admitted 51 charges of committing fraud by false representation on dates between May 9 and July 4, 2012.

Prosecuting lawyer Neil Conor told the court that the offences arose when Brown used her step-father's debit card to buy gifts and other "non-essential items" including a family holiday five days after he died.

He described how Brown used the card on 66 occasions., including to buy concert tickets, meals in various hotels and a holiday for herself and her children, emptying the account.

Mr Conor accepted that in the months preceding her stepfather's death she had been caring for Mr Leech and that he had given her access to his account.

He added, however, that once he died, Brown had no authority to use the card to her own ends.

Brown was arrested after Mr Leech's sister, who was his next-of-kin in lieu of a will being made, alerted the police to "irregularities" in the bank statement and officers uncovered the "unsophisticated" thefts. The lawyer revealed that Barclays Bank had compensated Mr Leech's sisters, so it was the financial institution who had suffered the loss.

Defence lawyer Martin McCann said while the sisters were Mr Leech's next-of-kin, there had been little or no contact with their brother during his illness.

Rather, Brown had been his main carer, despite the fact that he and her mother been divorced 10 years.

Judge Marrinan told the court he believed it was a "rather sad case" and that had Brown's frauds been more sophisticated he would have "less sympathy". He added that he would be using his discretion not to impose a compensation order because Brown faced the possibility of a "penalty-kick" civil case if Barclays issued proceedings against her.

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