Belfast Telegraph

Ex-USPCA chief Philpott avoids jail for defrauding charity of £40k

By Michael Donnelly

Shamed former USPCA chief Stephen Philpott who used his position as chief executive to defraud the animal charity of £40,000 will be having Christmas dinner at home after all, despite agreement the custody threshold was passed in his case.

Newry Crown Court Judge Gordon Kerr QC told the 55-year-old disgraced charity head he was taking the exceptional course in suspending his nine-month jail term for two years given his ill-health and because he'd made full restitution "so the USPCA can now, as they should have done, use that money for their proper activities".

Judge Kerr also said while the amount taken was large, "it was accrued over seven years at a relatively modest rate", and the evidence showed his offending "was conducted openly, not clandestinely and ended in 2014, some four years ago".

However, he added that Philpott's guilty plea came late in the day and in his pre-sentence report, which suggested a suspended sentence, it stated whilst he was pleading guilty "for his offending he is only accepting there were procedural issues which were not adhered to".

But Judge Kerr said he accepted that as a one-time high profile leader of the charity he had "placed himself at risk of reprisal for his activities to stop activities such as dog fighting, badger baiting and other illegal animal sports".

In a statement, the USPCA said the decision of the court "brings closure to a challenging period in the story of the USPCA. A respected and valued charity whose trust was ruthlessly abused by its most senior executive".

Police said the investigation was complex.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson said: "Despite having responsibility for ensuring the financial wellbeing of the charity, Mr Philpott blatantly abused his position and the trust that was placed in him, deceiving his colleagues in a bid to satisfy his own greed and fraudulently receive large amounts of money.

“Mr Philpott’s dishonest behaviour prevented the USPCA from receiving substantial funds; funds which could have been used to prevent cruelty and provide care for abandoned animals.  Despite his role as Chief Executive of the USPCA at the time, it is clear that Mr Philpott did not subscribe to the values of the charity and chose to profit significantly at the expense of suffering animals in need of help.

“Despite having responsibility for ensuring the financial wellbeing of the charity, Mr Philpott blatantly abused his position and the trust that was placed in him, deceiving his colleagues in a bid to satisfy his own greed and fraudulently receive large amounts of money.

Stephen Philpott, former USPCA chief executive
Stephen Philpott, former USPCA chief executive

During the brief sentencing hearing on Monday morning, Judge Kerr outlined that Philpott had been involved with the charity for 25 years and during his time as chief executive had been a “high-profile leader"."

The judge said he accepted Philpott had at times placed himself at risk in that role by opposing illegal animal sports such as badger baiting.

The one-time high profile CEO Philpott, who moved from his original home in Ashgrove Road, to an address of The Manse, in the border city, had earlier pleaded guilty to pocketing £40,000 at the rate of over £400 per month over a seven year period up to November 2014.

Last week prosecution QC Liam McCollum revealed that Philpott, who's since repaid the USPCA, pocketed the rent money on a house in  Bessbrook, and it "simply disappeared" after either paid in cash directly to him or left in the USPCA offices in an envelope for the "Attention of Mr Philpott".

Mr McCollum also revealed Philpott's wrongdoing was exposed by his own hand when he asked for a rental contract to be drawn up for the property.  And it later transpired there was no record of any rental monies paid to the charity for Clogharevan Road.

Philpott, following his arrest suggested the monies were used for day-to-day expenses or to pay for casual labour, or intelligence resources, but again no record of these dealings were found.

Defence QC James Gallagher said that "basically the money was flittered away" and as "a consequence of his failings" Philpott, facing major surgery later this week, "had not only lost his job, but also his self-esteem which has impacted on his mental well being".

Mr Gallagher said that from the "booklet of references" handed into court, Philpott had been a man of "positively good character, and found to be such a person by the many people who have come into contact with him over the years".

The defence lawyer said "the picture" was of a man who "worked tirelessly in the interests of the charity .... often involving dangerous investigations  ... badger baiting ... dog fighting" all involving additional working hours.  Such work also brought with it "very severe threats ....  from criminal gangs who took exception to his investigations".

Mr Gallagher said "the net position was, with all that he was doing, he effectively was left in total control" of the charity and that "it may be he allowed the distinction of his position as an employee to come blurred with his position as chief executive".

In September he pleaded guilty to one of three charges as he was about to go on trial for defrauding the charity between January 2007 and November 2014. The two other charges were "left on the books" and not proceeded with.

The particulars of the fraud charged Philpott with having obtained rental payments from a property in Clogharevan Road, Bessbrook, he "failed to account for the said payments and failed to bring notice of the said payments to the attention of the USPCA, with the intention, by means of the abuse of that position to make a gain for yourself or another or to cause loss to the USPCA or to expose the USPCA to a risk of a loss".

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