Heating firm worker who paid for home improvements with £50,000 of company money avoids prison
A Belfast man who defrauded his employers out of over £50,000 for improvement works on his home avoided prison yesterday.
Darren John Hamilton (45), of Knockdene Park, was given a 20-month suspended sentence after he pleaded guilty to eight charges of fraud by abuse of his position against Craigavon-based heating and ventilation firm Maurice Stevenson Limited (MSL).
Craigavon Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard the offences were committed between April 1, 2013 and August 1, 2014.
The court was told that the five-figure sum was fraudulently paid out of MSL accounts to external individuals and businesses.
Co-accused David Harbinson (46), of Carnamena Avenue in Belfast, received an eight-month prison sentence suspended for two years after he pleaded guilty to a single charge of false accounting.
He admitted that he “falsified certain accounts, records or documents required for an accounting purpose, namely four invoices from Daly renewables”.
Roger Crawford (42), of Ballyholme Esplanade, Bangor was ordered to carry out 100 hours community service after he pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud by false representation.
He admitted that on dates between July 29, 2013 and September 12, 2013, he “dishonestly made a false representation, namely, that a Worldwide Sparky Limited invoice dated August 10, 2013, in the amount of £22,000 was for the supply of controls and control panels for NAS Thames Valley”.
The court heard that Crawford has made full restitution of £22,000.
The court was told that following the death of MSL company owner David Stevenson in 2012, his widow Alison left her own job to try and keep the family business going.
At the time, the company, which was established in 1921 and employed 64 people, installed heating and ventilation services and provided facilities management for the healthcare, education and local government sectors.
Prosecution lawyer David McDowell QC said Hamilton was employed as the company’s operation manager, earning £60,000 a year, and also received a 5% annual bonus, company car and pension.
“Over this period of offending, he used his position within the company to obtain items from various companies which he then used for home improvements,’’ Mr McDowell told the court.
“On several occasions, Hamilton told these companies to invoice MSL for the goods received.
“On one occasion in September 2013, Hamilton received an invoice from a company owned by Roger Crawford for work completed by his firm, and he was paid by cheque from MSL. This was a false invoice.
“In March 2014, Hamilton instructed a building contractor to build an extension at his home.
“The builder was paid £28,000 for the work and was told to invoice MSL.
“He did not have financial control to do this.”
Judge Gordon Kerr QC heard that at the time, Hamilton felt “this was part of his bonus”.
The total amount of money involved was £51,843.85, with a loss to MSL of around £30,000.
MSL went into administration in February 2017 following financial trading difficulties.
Mr McDowell said that why the company failed “is a matter of debate” and “it’s not proven that it was as a result of Hamilton’s conduct”.
“This offending was for self enrichment,” he added.
Defence counsel Arthur Harvey QC told the court that there would be full restitution in the case.
He said married father-of-two Hamilton had been in employment for the past 20 years.
“He accepts that what he did was wrong. He accepts full responsibility. He accepts he committed an act of dishonesty while in a position of trust.
“Due to his offending, he has had to seek employment in England.”
The court heard David Harbinson knew Hamilton through his work at Red Electrics in Mallusk, Co Antrim, where he had worked as its contracts manager for 17 years.
Defence QC Frank O’Donoghue said father-of-three Harbinson was asked to accept an agreement which he did on behalf of the company — false invoices were produced for £42,000 at the request of Hamilton.
“This defendant,’’ said Mr O’Donoghue, “is quite clear this was not for his own personal gain... my client did not receive a penny for the transaction, but was responsible for the false accounting. When he was challenged by his employers, he opted to resign. His offending has had a devastating impact on him and his family.’’
The court heard electrician Crawford, who had known Hamilton for 15 years, had “received payments of £22,000 for works he did not undertake through his company Worldwide Sparky”.
“He has acknowledged his wrongdoing and has expressed shame and remorse. He regrets his involvement and he has paid the money back,’’ his lawyer said.
Passing sentence, Judge Kerr said that it was clear from a victim impact statement from widow Alison Stevenson that the fraud against her company and the collapse of the family firm had a “traumatic impact upon her”.
He said it had “not been proven to the requisite standard” that the collapse of MSL “was the result of Hamilton’s conduct’’.
Judge Kerr said if it been had proved, he would have imposed a more severe sentence of 30 months in prison.