Newry Crown Court: Former CEO of charity receives suspended sentence for fraud
The former CEO of the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) has been sentenced to nine months imprisonment, suspended for two years, after he pleaded guilty to fraud earlier this year.
The former CEO had taken approximately £40,000 from the charity over a seven-year period, and Judge Gordon Kerr QC was satisfied that the custodial threshold had been reached. In light of the fact that full restitution had since been made to the charity, Judge Kerr said it was proper to suspend the sentence.
Stephen Philpott was employed by and became the Chief Executive of the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) for over 25 years.
The USPCA owned a property in Bessbrook, and between 2007 and 2014, Mr Philpott collected £400 per month in rent. The Court heard that the money was either paid directly to Mr Philpott or left in an enveloped marked for him at the USPCA’s office. The total amount of rent collected during this time, approximately £40,000, was not accounted for in the USPCA’s books.
Initially, Mr Philpott maintained that he used the money solely for the purpose of the USPCA’s day to day expenses including payments for intelligence to assist in legitimate investigations. However, “with a degree of reluctance”, Mr Philpott accepted that he was fraudulent and entered a plea of guilty in September 2018.
Judge Kerr said the starting point for sentencing was 18-months imprisonment, considering the guidelines set out by, inter alia, the NI Court of Appeal in R v Gault  NI 232.
The main aggravating factor was the abuse of position, which Judge Kerr said was twofold:
- Mr Philpott was a Chief Executive; and
- He was taking money from a charity.
Judge Kerr said that another factor was that the activity took place over an extended period of seven years.
Finding the degree of culpability the highest and placing the case in the category of between £10,000 to £100,000, Judge Kerr was satisfied that the custodial threshold had been reached and the proper starting point was 18 months.
Mr Philpott was, however, entitled to a discount for his plea of guilty.
In this regard, Judge Kerr commented that the plea came late in the day and the pre-sentence report made it clear that Mr Philpott was reluctant, maintaining the money was used in the course of employment and his plea was an acknowledgement of bad accounting. As such, a 20% discount was appropriate.
Judge Kerr said that Mr Philpott was entitled to credit for his previous good character, which was emphasised by references provided to the Court. It was also noted that a counselling report referred to Mr Philpott’s “stress and trauma occasioned by the loss of his position and lifetime’s work”.
Judge Kerr took three factors into account in relation to the offending:
- The amount taken was accrued at a “relatively modest” rate of £400 per month;
- The offence was conducted openly and not clandestinely; and
- The offending ended four years ago.
Mr Philpott’s clear reluctance to “accept full responsibility for his offending” and instead only accept that there were “procedural issues which he had not adhered to”, meant that he was assessed as being a medium risk of re-offending.
It was noted that Mr Philpott was endeavouring to make restitution and suggested that the Court may wish to consider suspending any custodial sentence.
Judge Kerr adjourned sentencing to see if restitution could be made, and it was subsequently confirmed that restitution had been made in full so that the USPCA could now use the money for their proper activities.
It was also noted at this stage that a doctor’s report confirmed that Mr Philpott had serious health issues which required imminent surgical intervention.
In light of the fact that the USPCA had received full recovery and was not at a loss, Judge Kerr imposed a sentence of nine months’ imprisonment suspended for two years.
- by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News
© Irish Legal News Ltd 2019