Belfast Telegraph

Antrim church donations collector stole £30k from congregation, court hears

By Nevin Farrell

A man who counted the collections at a Co Antrim Presbyterian church has been accused of stealing £30,000 from its congregation and Sunday school.

Eamon Shiels, from Old Park Avenue in Ballymena, is charged with four counts of theft from Cuningham Memorial Presbyterian Church in Cullybackey.

The 61-year-old also faces one count of fraud by abuse of position and two of converting criminal property.

The case was mentioned at Ballymena Magistrates Court yesterday, although the defendant was not present.

One charge alleges that Shiels took a total of £30,000 between July 2008 and March 2015.

He is also accused of stealing £660 in August 2014 and £770 in March 2015.

A fourth charge accuses him of stealing £600 from a Sunday school collection some time between the start of September 2013 and the end of that year.

It is also alleged that between 2008 and 2015, Shiels dishonestly abused his position by taking cash from collections he was entrusted to count.

The defendant is said to have deposited the money into his own and a woman's bank account.

The case was listed as a first appearance yesterday.

Defence barrister Neil Moore accepted that his client was alleged to have been involved in "quite significant thefts and frauds".

He said Shiels had been interviewed in 2015, after which nothing happened until, in recent weeks, papers were served. Mr Moore told the court there had been a "significant investigation", with the evidence file running to 2,400 pages.

He insisted he would need a considerable amount of time to go through the papers. "It is a very complicated situation of fraud that spans seven years," Mr Moore said.

District Judge Peter King adjourned proceedings until the new year, when a date will be fixed for a preliminary inquiry ahead of the case being sent to crown court.

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