Belfast community worker jailed for targeting 'vulerable' elderly man
A community worker from Sandy Row who set up a false bank account in the name of a vulnerable elderly resident started a ten-month stint behind bars on Friday.
Samuel John Hillerby will spend an additional ten months on licence when he is released from custody after a Crown Court judge determined that he deliberately targeted a "vulnerable" man who was partially blind man and had dementia.
Hillerby, originally from Belfast, whose address was given as Horizon House in the Battersea Reach area of London, originally denied charges of fraud by false representation and claimed he was helping the pensioner out.
However, the 29-year old former youth worker later admitted three counts of fraud by false representation dating back to 2014.
Belfast Crown Court heard that as the man in his 70s was moved to a care home, Hillerby set up a false account with the Nationwide in the pensioner's name, and subsequently opened a credit card account.
These offences were committed between October 18 and December 9, 2014, and the accounts were set up online.
Hillerby also pretended to be the pensioner and made two unsuccessful applications for loans with an online finance company, between November 12 and 30, 2014.
A Crown prosecutor said that in the summer of 2014, Hillerby was a community worker in Sandy Row while the pensioner was a resident.
In August of that year, the pensioner became increasingly confused and was diagnosed with dementia. The prosecutor said he was blind in his right eye, had glaucoma in his left eye and concerns were expressed about his welfare and ability to look after himself.
In September 2014 the pensioner was admitted to a care home. He didn't have any documentation relevant to his finances, so for that reason a care manager for the Trust went to his home on December 10 looking for bank documents.
The care manager found a bank statement, which showed recent activity on the pensioner's account which was impossible as he had been in the home and had not been using his bank account.
The prosecutor said that when the care worker contacted the PSNI and an enquiry was launched, it emerged that Hillerby had set up a second account in the pensioner's name.
Hillerby then transferred £5,275 from the pensioner's genuine account into the account he fraudulently set up, then used this money to make transactions and withdraw cash. The transactions included Benedicts Hotel, Russell's Cellars and Poundworld.
Transactions on the Nationwide Credit Card, which was obtained fraudulently, amounted to £220. The Nationwide refunded all the money to the pensioner and "absorbed the loss."
The prosecutor also revealed that police enquiries led them to Hillerby, and when he was first interviewed in August 2015, he denied any wrongdoing.
He told officers he knew the pensioner, that he helped him and had built up a good relationship with him. When he was interviewed for a second time in November of that year, he made a 'no comment' reponse.
Telling Judge Smyth that Hillerby had a relevant record for similar offences committed in Wales, the prosecutor said that as a result his offending, Hillerby had to leave his local area and was now living in London.
The prosecutor also pointed out that Hillerby built a relationship with the pensioner, and concluded the Crown case by saying this relationship allowed him access to this elderly man's property whilst he worked as a community worker.
Defence barrister Des Fahy said that while there was "no doubt" the offences against the pensioner were exploitative, this was not a classic 'breach of trust' case.
Instead, Hillerby's position as a community worker allowed him to assist the older man with tasks he could no longer do - which he did for a period of time.
Mr Fahy revealed the offending came at a time when Hillerby's working hours were being significantly reduced, and when the pensioner's debilitation became more marked. It was at this stage, Mr Fahy said, that Hillerby "took advantage of the situation and conducted himself as he did."
Hillerby's barrister told the court that as a result of his offending, Hillerby became the subject of threats from within his own community, which forced him to move from the area and relocate in London.
"His reputation within his family and his own community has been destroyed by this behaviour," Mr Fahy told the court.
Passing sentence, Judge Patricia Smyth spoke of Hillerby and said she accepted the money in question was used as Hillerby's "personal living expenses."
The Judge also noted the positive contribution Hillerby made to the Sandy Row area whilst employed as a community and youth worker.
However, pointing out Hillerby came before the court with previous relevant convictions - the Judge said he seems more concerned about the impact it has had on his life, rather than expressing genuine remorse.
Handing Hillerby a 20-month sentence, The Judge also said it was her view the pensioner was "deliberately targeted because of his vulnerability."
Belfast Telegraph Digital