Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland lifeguard given absolute discharge after £8k fraud

A Co Down lifeguard who claimed over £8,000 in fraudulent payment claims has been given an absolute discharge following a judge's view that blame was also at the feet of a council's ineffective accounting system. (stock photo)
A Co Down lifeguard who claimed over £8,000 in fraudulent payment claims has been given an absolute discharge following a judge's view that blame was also at the feet of a council's ineffective accounting system. (stock photo)

By Donal McMahon

A Co Down lifeguard who claimed over £8,000 in fraudulent payment claims has been given an absolute discharge following a judge's view that blame was also at the feet of a council's ineffective accounting system.

Blaine McCulla pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud by false representation from April 1, 2015 to October 31, 2018.

Newry Magistrates' Court heard the defendant had made false claims for hours worked as a lifeguard in Kilkeel Leisure Centre, which had gone unnoticed for over three years.

The amount related to almost 1,500 false hours claimed for employment with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC).

During a police interview, McCulla (21), of Leestone Road, Kilkeel, admitted to the fraud though stated he didn't think he had claimed for such a large amount of money.

The accused further admitted to knowing the false accounting was wrong and accepted that he had put in for the wrong hours.

Defence said that his client, a university sports science student, had already taken out a loan to pay off a sizeable amount of the debt he had created.

"This is an unusual case," he noted. "He has now paid back the amount in full. There has been a certain amount of naivety. There was a lack of sophistication. He has his family support who are with him here in court."

District judge Eamonn King said: "This was an £8,000 loss to the council, and a substantial fraud. To his credit he has paid the amount back in full.

"Was it necessary for this case to be brought to the criminal courts? There has been a payment and a plea.

"I am going to do what should have been done in the first place and give an absolute discharge on all matters. If the accounts procedures were in place they would have noticed this in the first week and you wouldn't have run up a bill of £8,000."

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