Belfast Telegraph

Former Ulster Bank manager handed suspended jail term for theft of more than £100,000 from client

By Donna Deeney

A former Ulster Bank account manager has six months to pay £52,550 compensation to a client he stole £100,000 from.

Judge Philip Babington also imposed an 18 month jail sentence suspended for two years on on Colum Lewis-Canning (55) from Moneyrannel Road in Limavady at Londonderry Crown Court.

Lewis-Canning pleaded guilty last month to stealing the money from the account of Billy O'Neill two years after he was first charged and insisted he was not guilty.

Mr O'Neill, accompanied in court yesterday by his wife and family listened as Mr Babington told Lewis-Canning must pay compensation of £52,550 to Mr O'Neill within six months or the two year suspended sentence he imposed would be activated.

 The court heard how the two men had enjoyed a personal friendship where their families socialise together as well as a professional relationship.

Mr Babington noted that in In 2006, Lewis-Canning set up an investment company  called Smart Invest and invited  Mr O'Neill to buy shares which he agreed to do, handing over £100,000.

A year later  Mr O'Neill was sent a letter telling him his investment was now worth £150, 000 and asking if he wanted to invest further in Smart Invest but he declined the offer.

The judge said that in 2010 Mr O'Neill's accountant noticed a number of discrepancies in his accounts where money had been taken out of the man's back accounts on three occasions for £12, 500 on January '08, £65,000 on March '08 and £22,500 on February '09.

Mr O'Neill  who had not authorised these withdrawals rang Lewis-Canning and queried them and was told by the defendant that the £65,000 was for further investment in Smart Invest and £22,500 was for fees which arose from account management.

The money had been used by Smart Invest to buy shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland  - the parent company of Ulster Bank where Lewis Canning worked priced at between £3 and £4 but which later fell in value to just 20pence.

Mr Babington described Lewis-Canning as 'a star in the banking world'  who held a senior position which he took advantage of.

He added that the former banker had 'lost his reputation and status both within the banking world and wider society'.

He gave the defendant credit for having re-paid £48, 000 to Mr O'Neill and for entering a guilty plea 'albeit at a very late stage' and told him had he not done that he would be going to jail for three years.

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