Belfast Telegraph

Ex-church elder jailed following £1.4m scam

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Biking legend Robert Dunlop was among the victims of a former Presbyterian Church elder who stole £1.4m while working as an insurance broker.

Darren Johnston, a 40-year-old father-of-eight from Inverary Heights, Larne, was jailed for eight years after being convicted of 50 counts of theft and fraud at Antrim Crown Court yesterday.

Among victims affected by the four-year deception was former motorcycle ace Robert Dunlop who, at the time he died in 2008, had invested around £400,000 in now-defunct Portrush-based brokerage firm Brian McGee Investments and Pensions.

The crimes, which were carried out between 2004 and 2008, defrauded a number of others including Johnston’s former boss Brian McGee, who lost nearly £500,000, and former hotelier Bob McCook, who was duped out of £230,000.

Sentencing him to seven years in prison and handing out a one-year custody probation order, Judge Corinne Philpott QC said there was little chance that the money would be recouped. He had “defrauded victims of their life savings in some cases and left his employer near bankrupt”, she said.

“He was able to commit these frauds because he was completely trusted by his employer and had experience in how monies could be transferred and credit obtained without causing suspicion.

“He was hard-working and appeared quite reliable and presentable as a type of person who engendered trust.”

The court was told Johnston, who was a low-level employee with an annual salary of £20,000, used the stolen money to provide a “comfortable financial living” for his wife, who did not work at the time, and their children.

He bought a top-of-the-range Volvo XC90 car as well as a Ssangyong Rodius people carrier and led the lifestyle of someone earning between £60,000 and £65,000 a year.

A psychologist’s report claimed Johnston, who spent a significant amount of time surrounded by substantially wealthier people, had been motivated by envy.

He has been in custody since pleading guilty last week, and yesterday stood in the dock with his hands clasped and head bowed as the long list of charges were read.

Meanwhile, the court heard how Johnston’s family life has fallen apart since he was arrested. His wife, who knew nothing of the fraud, has filed for divorce.

None of the victims who were in court wanted to speak about their ordeal after sentencing.

A church minister was among those in the public gallery, although he too declined to talk.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph