Belfast Telegraph

Addict's gross betrayal of his caring sister

By Chris Kilpatrick

Successful businesswoman Karen McAvoy knew her brother had his demons. Mark Neill had endured a lengthy battle with a gambling addiction, but appeared to have finally got his life back on track.

Her publishing company, based in Moira, was turning a healthy profit and her young family was reaping the rewards.

She decided that having seemingly conquered his addiction, she would give her brother a chance to carve out a career as the general manager of her firm.

As a way of repaying her for the job, which brought with it a £25,000-a-year salary, Neill would steal more than £320,000 from his sister. Cruelly, Neill's desire for the thrill of gambling proved greater than the bond with his sibling.

Craigavon Crown Court was told that at the height of his addiction, Neill was placing £10,000 bets online – using money from his sister's firm.

His offending came to light last February when Ms McAvoy contacted the police "to say that her brother the defendant had admitted taking over £100,000 from her company account", prosecuting lawyer Nicola Auret told the court.

Neill had failed to show for work the previous week, and instead contacted his sister to confess that "he had been gambling with company funds", said the lawyer, adding that Neill himself estimated he had stolen in excess of £100,000.

In fact, investigations conducted by police and an accountant revealed that was a drastic under-calculation on Neill's part, as their audit of company accounts and Neill's bank statements uncovered the theft. Neill had paid himself an extra £9,451 and the lawyer said examinations of his accounts with the Ulster Bank and Santander showed there had been a total of 165 credits coming from his sister's company which amounted to £320,898.

He confessed to police during interviews that he put the stolen money through the accounts as purchases from suppliers as well as dividend payments, but that he had pocketed it instead.

Neill managed to pay some of the money back before yesterday's sentencing.

The court was told the most obvious aggravating factor was the "gross breach of trust" represented in the fraud which had a "certain amount of planning and premeditation" and has had a "significant effect" on the victim's company, while in mitigation Neill had confessed and had shown remorse.

"Fortunately and quite remarkably, she has managed to keep the business going," said Ms Auret, while defence lawyer Michael Tierney told the court that Neill "hangs his head in shame" at his actions.

The offices of Karen McAvoy Publishing were open as normal yesterday afternoon.

Ms McAvoy's husband said she was not available to comment on the jailing of the brother whose selfishness threatened to cost his sister her livelihood.

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