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Years of friendship ended in betrayal

Colum Lewis-Canning, described as a "rising star" in the world of banking, fled from Londonderry Crown Court after Judge Philip Babington had imposed a two-year suspended sentence and £52,550 compensation order on him.

Watching him walk out of the courtroom, Billy O'Neill - the man whose bank account Lewis-Canning took £100,000 from - described the past four years as "difficult".

The court heard how the two men had enjoyed a personal friendship, where their two families regularly socialised together, as well as a professional relationship, and how when Lewis-Canning left his job with the Bank of Ireland in Coleraine, Mr O'Neill switched his accounts to the Ulster Bank in Derry, where Lewis-Canning was taking up a new position.

Yesterday a four-year police investigation culminated in the two men meeting again in court, with Lewis-Canning in the dock, his reputation in tatters.

Neither men even glanced at each other as sentence was handed down - years of friendship and trust snuffed out in actions which robbed Mr O'Neill of £100,000 and Lewis-Canning of his character.

"These have been four very difficult years which have taken their toll on me," was all Mr O'Neill said before he, too, left the court.

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