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Gangsters force Northern Ireland woman to travel to Liverpool to launder money

By Jonathan Humphries

Gangsters forced a Northern Ireland woman to travel to Liverpool from Belfast to launder their dirty cash after she ran up drug debts.

Lisa Johnston was arrested at a HSBC bank in the Old Swan area of Liverpool with a phone bill and personal information from another woman with the same name.

A court heard yesterday that in order to pay off her debts Johnston had been handed plane tickets and ordered to try and access bank accounts belonging to other women who shared her name.

The 28-year-old, from Dunmurry, was spared jail at Liverpool Magistrates Court yesterday after admitting fraud and possessing an article for use in fraud.

District Judge Andrew Shaw said: "You have really clarified that you became involved in sophisticated and deliberate offending, so deliberate you were coming from Belfast to Liverpool for the purposes of becoming involved with an attempted money laundering scheme.

"Drug dealers need people, preferably people with no previous convictions, who can open accounts and legitimise illegal money for them."

Lionel Cope, prosecuting, said Johnston attended the HSBC branch, in Prescot Road, on January 18 armed with a utility bill and personal details relating to a woman with the same name.

Johnston was attempting to amend details on the bank account, but the clerk became suspicious when she noticed "discrepancies" between what the defendant said and the bank's records.

Mr Cope said: "The staff member contacted the account holder who confirmed she was not present and she had given no one permission to act as her proxy. The police were called and found Johnston sat in the banking hall.

"Initially she refused to answer any questions, but after she was arrested and cautioned she confirmed she was Lisa Johnston.

"When asked if she was the account holder she then said: 'No, someone else.'"

The court heard Johnston had handwritten notes containing personal details from the account holder, but also relating to Natwest and Barclays accounts linked to other women who shared her name.

The court heard there was no information as to how Johnston came to be in possession of the bill, a BT phone bill, dating from December last year, as well as the victim's date of birth, address and maiden name.

Scott Phillips, defending, said his client had been ordered to travel to Liverpool to pay off her drug debts and had been provided with a "package" of travel tickets.

He said: "Ms Johnston only had limited knowledge of the overall nature of what was going on."

Judge Shaw sentenced Johnston to eight months in prison, suspended for 12 months, and ordered her to complete activities with the Probation Service.

She was also ordered to pay £85 prosecution costs and a £115 victim surcharge.

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