A former police officer who stole £22,000 from the Churchtown Presbyterian Church in Tamlaght, Co Londonderry, when he was the church treasurer, has been jailed for 14 months.
Derek Carson (55), who spent 30 years as a police officer, stole the money on various dates between January 2007 and June 2013 after he'd retired from the PSNI.
His offences were uncovered when an accountant received the church accounts from Carson in 2011.
The accountant reported his concerns to the presbytery and following an internal inquiry the matter was reported to the PSNI in 2013.
Carson, from Orchard Way in Portglenone, was appointed the church treasurer in 2006. He was unanimously convicted last month by a jury of three charges linked to the thefts - the theft of £22,000, fraud by abuse of his position and converting criminal property, namely £22,000. He did not give evidence at his trial and Londonderry Crown Court was told yesterday that Carson still did not accept the jury's findings.
Judge Philip Babington said Carson had invented a fantasy story in a bid to conceal his offending and he described Carson's case as hopeless.
When the church accountant examined the books presented to him by Carson, he discovered one bank account did not have sufficient money lodged in it and a second account was overstretched. In his police interviews Carson denied taking the money. He told the officers the money had been stolen from either his car or house, but he never reported the thefts to the police.
Evidence of his own financial situation was put before the jury. They were told that when Carson retired from the PSNI he received a lump sum of £147,000 but that his monthly pension of £1,300 was less than half his normal wage. Carson and his wife invested £50,000 and spent the remainder on two cars, a caravan and on holidays. His bank accounts were examined by the police and some of them contained unexplained lodgements.
When asked about them Carson replied "no comment". During his police interviews Carson said he wanted to pay the money back to the church, but nothing was done until after his conviction last month.
Judge Babington said Carson had no previous criminal convictions and he accepted that Carson, with help from family members, was in a position to make restitution to the church, but he said the court had no alternative but to impose an immediate custodial sentence.
He told Carson: "It is clear that you abused your position as treasurer, a trusted role in charge of the congregation's money, and that you carried on in this way for a number of years, perhaps five at most. Your conduct was highly culpable and dishonest."
As well as jailing Carson for 14 months, half of which will be spent in jail and half on licence, Judge Babington also made a compensation order in favour of Churchtown Presbyterian Church in the sum of £22,000.