Belfast Telegraph

Tyrone woman who scammed £18,000 from victim jailed, but crony still on run

By Staff Reporter

A Tyrone woman who scammed a vulnerable man out of more than £18,000 in under a year has been jailed at Dungannon Crown Court.

The case of Julie Larkin (39), of Barrack Street, Coalisland, and Peter McDonagh (49), of Fox Street, Portadown, involved multiple counts of fraud by false representation.

Larkin admitted the majority of charges, while McDonagh was convicted of 10 charges, but was not present for the verdict having fled mid-trial, abandoning the woman to face justice alone.

Between May 2013 and March 2014, the pair conned the victim out of £18,000 by use of aliases and fictitious lawyers supposedly handling the estate of a deceased uncle. Posing as brother and sister, they endeared themselves and evoked sympathy from the kind-hearted victim with stories of hardship, distress and even a cancer diagnosis.

In all instances funds were sought, with the promise of repayment when a mysterious but ultimately non-existent inheritance came though.

Both originally denied all charges and went on trial in March, but after the first day Larkin admitted nine charges.

McDonagh's trial continued, running for three days, but the court heard he absconded just as he was to give evidence. The trial continued in his absence with the jury returning guilty verdicts.

As a result Larkin stood alone in the dock for sentencing. Her defence counsel said guilt was accepted, describing the scam as "not the most sophisticated".

His Honour Judge Neill Rafferty QC said: "Her plea of guilty does not absolve her criminality. She played a somewhat active role… she cultivated friendship with the victim.

"She describes herself being 'used as bait'. If she was a worm on a hook, she was a fairly active worm. She knew exactly the role she was playing, and she played it with aplomb."

Larkin's siblings had previously said they would gather £3,000 by way of partial restitution to the victim, although it was made clear this may reduce the duration of imprisonment but not replace it. The court was advised the cash had been lodged and will be passed to the victim.

Judge Rafferty said: "McDonagh is a confidence trickster with a significant previous record. He identified a vulnerable, compliant victim, then introduced Larkin in the guise of his sister. I regard McDonagh as a predatory offender. He has a previous record for similarly targeting a blind, elderly vulnerable man. McDonagh was the prime mover in this case, but Larkin was a central player."

Jailing McDonagh in his absence to four-and-a-half-years, the judge added: "The targeting of the weak and vulnerable in our community will be not be tolerated."

Turning to Larkin, Judge Rafferty imposed a prison term of 18 months with six to be spent in custody and the remainder on probation.

Belfast Telegraph

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