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'Double or quits' £600k fraudster Gareth Booth faces sentence

Company director was 'in throes of addiction that grew and grew'

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A prosecution barrister told Judge Philip Babington that Booth lost money in his share trading, which included buying Brent Oil shares

A prosecution barrister told Judge Philip Babington that Booth lost money in his share trading, which included buying Brent Oil shares

A prosecution barrister told Judge Philip Babington that Booth lost money in his share trading, which included buying Brent Oil shares

A former director of a well-known Northern Ireland company who has admitted defrauding his employer of almost £600,000 and transferring hundreds of thousands of pounds into an online shares trading account is due to be sentenced in two weeks time.

Gareth Booth (30), from Annaghmore Mews in Castledawson, has pleaded guilty to defrauding the Neil McKibbin group of £586,694.35 on various dates between January 2017 and December 2018 when he was employed as Group Operations Director.

At his plea hearing yesterday at the Crown Court in Londonderry, sitting in Coleraine, the court was told that so far, he has managed to repay just over £21,000 to his former employer.

He committed the offences when he had sole control of a £2.5m company renovation project.

On one occasion in November 2018, Booth deposited £430,650 into his online trading account with Plus 500.

A prosecution barrister told Judge Philip Babington that Booth lost money in his share trading, which included buying Brent Oil shares. He then started chasing his losses and lost control.

In a victim impact statement from the injured party, Neil McKibbin, the prosecutor said Mr McKibbin stated that the fraud resulted in a loss of public confidence in his company as a result of which the victim's own reputation had diminished.

When arrested by the police, Booth made no admissions during his first interview but gave the investigating officers his financial details. During a second police interview he made full admissions.

A previous employer of Booth's - chartered engineer Brian Harvey, the then chairman and managing director of the Harvey Engineering Group plc - said he had head-hunted Booth after the defendant had audited his company accounts in 2013.

Three years later Booth left the company and moved to the McKibbin Group.

Mr Harvey, who was a defence character witness, said last year Booth told him of his offending and said that he was remorseful for his actions.

Mr Harvey said despite Booth's admissions and offending, he still trusted him implicitly and would be happy to re-employ him.

Asked by the prosecution barrister if Booth had fraudulently taken over £500,000 from him would he continue to employ him, Mr Harvey said as a Christian he would refer to the "scriptural pattern" which afforded people to make restitution and to repent.

Defence barrister John McCrudden QC said while Booth's offending had initially caused a considerable reduction in his employer's growth prospects, no one in the 300 strong workforce had lost their job as a result of the fraud.

He said Booth's criminality did not involve terrorism nor did it involve money laundering.

"It was a disaster. He was in the throes of an addiction which grew and grew," he said.

"Ironically he was betting double or quits. He was turning the last spin of the wheel to try to transfer money back to the owner," Mr McCrudden said.

Mr McCrudden said Booth held shares in his employer's company.

They were valued at about £7,500 but with a commercial sale in the offing those shares would then have been worth between £40,000 and £80,000 which Booth intended to pay back to his former employer.

However, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the sale did not go through and Booth's expected financial windfall did not materialise.

The defence barrister said before Booth's offending, he had the world at his feet and was a man of sterling and unimpaired character who was a high achiever both academically and professionally.

"He was going to go very far. He was the apple of his mother's eye. All that is in ashes now. His humiliation and degradation is well known now to many people. He has fallen into infamy and he is savagely aware of that," he said.

Mr McCrudden said the defendant was entitled to substantial credit in terms of sentencing because of the way he'd faced up to his criminality.

Judge Babington said he would sentence Booth on September 22 and he released the defendant on continuing bail until then.

Belfast Telegraph