Fake Banbridge barrister claimed he could bribe judge
A man who posed as a barrister to defraud a woman seeking legal advice about the death of her mother has been jailed for eight months.
Christopher McDonnell (34) initially took £590 off the woman and told her he was going to use it to bribe a judge.
After being told McDonnell was a qualified barrister, the woman sought advice about possible medical negligence following the death of her mother in December 2014.
During yesterday's sentencing, Judge Patricia Smyth said the woman had "lost her trust in people".
Belfast Crown Court heard McDonnell, from Limewood in Banbridge, first met the woman after he rented an office in a church in Carrickfergus, which he then turned into a gym.
His offending began at a time when he was trying to keep the business afloat.
The woman met McDonnell via a friend, and a month later, when they met again, McDonnell "listened to her story" about her mother's death.
A Crown prosecutor said McDonnell told the woman he was a barrister and worked on behalf of the English Chambers in Northern Ireland.
In March 2016, the woman handed McDonnell differing sums of money. He claimed after one payment that the money she gave him was going to be used to bribe a judge.
McDonnell told the woman he was taking her case to a court in England - but by September 2016 she had concerns that things were not quite right.
The prosecutor said as part of the scam, McDonnell forged a letter addressed to her from a recognised law firm. He also manipulated legal and other documents he then showed to the woman - but were branded "gobbledygook" by the prosecutor.
McDonnell's offending emerged after the woman became so concerned about the progress of her case that she contacted Chambers in London, only to be told McDonnell was not on their list of approved barristers.
She also contacted the firm of solicitors named in the letter sent to her, and was informed they had never heard of McDonnell or her case. She was advised at this point by the law firm to contact police, which she did.
The total amount the woman handed to McDonnell was £2,590. She will receive £1,000 by way of compensation paid by McDonnell.
When an investigation was launched, it emerged that McDonnell had defrauded a second woman. She told police she met him at church, that he ran a gym and he told her he was a qualified barrister.
The prosecutor said McDonnell's offending was "not spontaneous", but instead was "pre-meditated, intended deception".
He pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud by false representation, two counts of theft and two charges of forgery.
Defence barrister Joel Lindsay said it was accepted these were "very nasty offences", telling Judge Smyth: "He knew the pendulum would only swing so far before it came round and caught him."
Mr Lindsay said McDonnell was "robbing Peter to pay Paul" after he came under financial pressure linked to the gym he opened at the church.
Sending McDonnell to prison, Judge Smyth said she accepted the offences were committed against a backdrop of his own marital difficulties and "mounting debts".
The judge told McDonnell he will spend eight months in prison, followed by eight months in licence.