'protracted fraud' | 

Two gambling addicts who swindled employers out of combined £170k spared jail

Lawrence John Scullion (44) and Stephen Byrne (49) each received suspended sentences

Stephen Byrne, who stole just over £46,000 from Beggs and Partners plumbers merchants

Paul HigginsBelfast Telegraph

Two men who fleeced more than £170,000 from their respective employers have avoided jail.

Lawrence John Scullion (44), a senior administrator who swindled £125,000 from the Housing Executive, was given a 20-month jail sentence suspended for three years at Newry Crown Court.

In a separate case at Craigavon Crown Court yesterday, 49-year-old van salesman Stephen Byrne (pictured), who stole just over £46,000 from Beggs and Partners plumbers merchants, was given at two-year jail sentence, also suspended for three years.

Scullion, from the Andersonstown Road in Belfast, pleaded guilty to a single count of fraud by abusing his position of trust within the Housing Executive. He transferred a total of £125,603 to himself over a 12-year period from May 2009 to June 2021.

Byrne, from Markville, Portadown, admitted a single count of theft from Beggs and Partners. He stole £46,131 from January 2017 to January 2020.

Judge Mark Reel said Scullion had worked for the Housing Executive for more than 20 years before his “protracted” frauds were exposed.

Scullion had first started gambling in a works outing, but by 2009, he was in the grip of addiction. His theft began when a person who was being paid housing benefit for their temporary accommodation moved address, and Scullion started having the benefit paid into his account.

When caught, it was found that he was not funding a lavish lifestyle, but instead was using the cash to gamble and pay household bills.

Judge Reel revealed that, according to reports, Scullion also took out multiple payday loans, borrowed money from relatives and used the fraudulently obtained £200 weekly housing benefit to fund his addiction.

He had initially gambled at the bookmakers beside his office and then online, using five separate online accounts. At one stage, he took out a £10,000 loan, but lost all of it to gambling.

Throughout the 12 years of fraud, Scullion’s wife knew nothing of his addiction or financial mismanagement as he “intercepted the mail” to hide letters warning of legal repercussions.

The judge said there was documented evidence to support the fact that Scullion had been in financial dire straits throughout that time, as well as a psychiatric report supporting the contention that “he suffers from a pathological compulsive gambling disorder”.

Judge Reel said that on one hand, Scullion took a significant amount of money out of the public purse when he was in a position of trust, and that without detection, the fraud may still be operating.

However, he also noted Scullion had a “chronic gambling addiction” who, having been “at rock bottom”, is attempting to rebuild his life and is trying to save his marriage. Judge Reel added that jailing him would have a detrimental effect on his family.

He said although the custody threshold has been passed, the pathological addiction amounted to an exceptional circumstance which justified him suspending the 20-month sentence.

Meanwhile, Craigavon Crown Court heard that Byrne had sold his matrimonial home to repay the cash he had taken from Beggs and Partners.

Judge Lynch outlined how Byrne had been a van sales/delivery man for the plumbers merchants when a customer highlighted suspicious activity in his account. This triggered an internal audit which uncovered the fraud.

Byrne confessed to the managing director that he had been taking money to fund a gambling addiction.

During a meeting with the owner in November 2019, Byrne “was tearful and confirmed that the figures were accurate”. He resigned in January 2020.

Judge Lynch said that since the offences came to light, Byrne has been able to halt his gambling addiction and expressed his “shame, embarrassment, remorse and regret” over the offending.

The judge said the thefts were a significant breach of trust, and while Byrne was in a position to fully repay the money, “one cannot buy one’s way out of serious criminal activity, but nevertheless that’s a factor the court must take into account”.

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