Omagh woman jailed over £131,000 theft from employer

Belfast High Court Building  in Belfast City centre  Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Belfast High Court Building in Belfast City centre Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A WOMAN who stole over £131,000 from her employer by forging his signature on company cheques has been jailed for three months for defaulting on a compensation order.

Lucille Gallagher (34), from Golan Villas, Omagh, Co Tyrone, used the cash to purchase foreign holidays, clothes, jewellery and a BMW 5 Series, which she later traded in for a BMW 6 Series, paying the difference with a forged cheque.

At the end of her trial in June 2013, Judge Geoffrey Millar QC gave Gallagher 28 days to pay back £10,000 to her employers.

Gallager appeared in the dock of Belfast Crown Court before the trial judge for a default hearing on the compensation order.

A defence barrister said the case had been adjourned from February this year to see if “funds could be made available’’ to fulfill the compensation order.

He added: “Unfortunately the situation remains unresolved. There is no prospect of the defendant getting access to monies for the compensation order.

“She will be surrendering herself to custody.’’

Judge Millar Qc added: “She would be surrendering herself to custody in any event.”

Judge Millar QC said it also did not prevent her former employers from taking any civil action against the defendant.

Dungannon Crown Court heard last summer that Gallagher was employed as an accounts manager with a Co Tyrone construction company between 2007 and 2011, during which time she committed the 13 charges of fraud totalling £131,178.

A further 13 corresponding charges of forgery where left on the court books, after the fraud charges were admitted.

The court was told a partner in the company reported to police financial irregularities which had been discovered after Gallagher resigned.

On examination it became apparent she had made cheques payable to herself and lodged them in a variety of personal accounts.

In some instances she had blacked out the original payee’s name and replaced it with her own.

In others, the cheques were made out directly to herself, with her employer’s signature forged.

Whilst police carried out investigations it transpired Gallagher was suffering from severe mental health difficulties and had spent a number of weeks in hospital.

However, she was anxious to attend for interview and admitted all matters put to her.

She explained she had been “living a deluded life, far beyond her means.” In response to being asked what motivated her to act as she did, Gallagher replied, “I don’t know why I’ve done this. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Defence council Des Fahy told the court, “I wish to state at the outset this case has presented serious challenges in that my client was largely indifferent to what was to become of her.

“I have limited instructions and it is only recently she has permitted her medical reports to be made available to the court.”

He said Gallagher did not want her mental health issues used as a defence, but Mr Fahy said he had taken the decision to go against his client’s wishes on that point, and she now agreed this was necessary.

Referring to a consultant’s report Mr Fahy stated, “My client has been diagnosed as severely depressed and under significant risk of completed suicide.

“In relation to the crime offences for which she is profoundly remorseful, I contend that subconsciously, perhaps deliberately she left a trail, always knowing she would be caught.”

Mr Fahy told the court his client’s mental health difficulties were the result of issues in her childhood.

Sentencing her, Judge Millar QC said, “Breach of trust is a most serious issue. You systematically stole a considerable sum of money over a three-and-a-half year period, of which you can only repay a fraction.

“I accept whilst these actions were done with intent, they were entirely out of character.

“I also accept you have a condition which has now been diagnosed and I am satisfied that goes back to you childhood.

“The threshold of custody has been met, but due to the exceptional circumstances, I am prepared to impose a suspended sentence.”

Gallagher received a three year prison sentence suspended for three years.