Fraudster | 

Mum who stole thousands from playgroup after volunteering to be treasurer avoids jail

Pauline McGill (45) says she stole the money, often charitable donations, to pay her household bills

Pauline McGill

Paul HigginsSunday World

A fraudster who fleeced a playgroup out of more than £16,000 has repaid the money.

Pauline McGill narrowly avoided jail and was handed 160 hours of community service for her betrayal.

The judge was scathing of the mother-of-three, who volunteered to be the treasurer of Aghadowey playgroup in Derry, saying her “trustworthiness should have been utterly beyond reproach”.

The 45-year-old broke that trust time and again to steal money, often charitable donations, to pay her household bills.

Judge Alastair Devlin noted her previously clear record and guilty plea. He also accepted that she may have “suffered significantly already as a result of the disgrace and rejection” her crime caused in the rural community.

McGill, from Cullycapple Road in Aghadowey, confessed to a single count of fraud committed between November 2017 and August 2019.

As treasurer of the playgroup, she had responsibility for lodging money, and the total amount she stole was £16,300.

The alarm was raised in August 2019 by the chair of the group, who alerted the police to her suspicions about McGill.

“The money taken consisted of the children’s payment fees and various monies received from charity events the playgroup ran over an 18-month period,” said a prosecution barrister.

McGill admitted to cops she had initially started taking “£20 here and there to pay bills”.

The court heard that she always intended to replace the stolen money but “wouldn’t have a clue as to the full amount”.

She “kept no record of what she had taken, so she had no idea what she would have had to replace,” the hearing was told.

On Wednesday, McGill brought close to the full amount she had stolen to Antrim Crown Court and lodged £1,000 with her solicitor.

After being informed the fraudster had £15,000 with her, the judge asked if it was “a cheque or actual cash notes”, and was told it was “hard cash notes”.

“Unfortunately, she succumbed to temptation,” said defence lawyer Frances Rafferty, who conceded that for McGill, “the easier it was, the more frequent it occurred”.

He accepted she had now “lost her reputation” but noted she had admitted her guilt and paid the money back.

The prosecution said the offence was aggravated because it was committed over a lengthy period of time and carried out against a children’s playgroup.

Sentencing the defendant, the judge said her crime had affected the staff.

However, while there had been a “serious breach of trust”, the community service order would give her an opportunity to give something back, the court heard.

McGill was warned that any failure to follow the terms of her sentence would see her back before the courts.

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