Concern over delays in bringing £2.3m fraud case to court
A judge has heard concerns over delays in a £2m-plus fraud case involving a woman from Tyrone.
After numerous adjournments, a prosecution lawyer has warned the latest must be the last, and "enough time" has been afforded to the defence.
The accused, who is in her 40s, cannot be identified due to a claim she will self-harm if named in the media.
She first appeared at Dungannon Magistrates Court in 2016, on an unprecedented 615 charges, accused of defrauding her employer of a total of £2.3m, over an eight-year period from 2008 and 2016.
Anonymity was granted after her lawyers produced a privately obtained medical report citing risk of suicide if identity was published. But a number of issues arose and the charges were withdrawn.
The case returned to court almost three years later on January 8 - this time at Enniskillen Magistrates Court - where it was listed for immediate committal to trial, but the accused did not attend and numerous adjournments followed.
While the charges had been broken down to 16 counts of converting criminal property, nine of fraud by abuse of position, and a single count of possessing fraudulent bank statements, the timespan and alleged loss to her former employer remained the same. She was eventually returned for trial in March.
Matters transferred to Dungannon Crown Court where it would be repeatedly listed for arraignment, in which the accused was to enter pleas.
She appeared in the dock on one occasion, where she pleaded not guilty to the nine counts of fraud by abuse of position. The remaining charges were not put to her, although it was understood this would be taking place on the next occasion.
Instead, after numerous defence applications to adjourn and the accused not attending court, in June, the prosecution said enough time had been afforded and the matter was to be fixed for trial.
She failed to appear again, and the case was listed yesterday for arraignment. Again, she did not appear.
However, the defence said the main forensic report will be received imminently and requested time to study this and consult with the accused.
However, a prosecution lawyer said: "To be frank, we feel enough time has been given. The time has now come to fix a trial. If there is to be another adjournment for arraignment, we ask this is rigorously adhered to. A lot of time has been afforded. There needs to be pleas either way and the matter fixed for trial if necessary."
Judge Brian Sherrard QC said: "I am mindful of the delays. It seems however the report is pending and the defence can advise (the accused) of the content accordingly."
He agreed to one final adjournment, but warned that "arraignment must go ahead".
The accused, who is remanded on £500 bail, must appear next week and indicate how she intends to plead on the remaining matters.