A judge has granted a press application to remove a reporting restriction on identifying a bank clerk who stole between £91,000 and £172,000 from a 90-year-old customer’s account and spent it on gambling.
Aisling Conway (38) from Cavanoniell Road, Pomeroy admitted multiple counts of theft, fraud by abuse of position and converting criminal property over a three-and-a-half year period from 2016 to 2019.
The reporting ban was originally imposed after Conway threatened to self-harm if publicly identified and remained in place while the case moved through the court process until sentencing when Judge Brain Sherrard rejected a defence contention it should permanently remain.
Conway appeared in the dock of Dungannon Crown Court where a prosecuting barrister disclosed, the funds were stolen from the elderly victim, who was no longer physically able to attend the bank.
Around May 2019, a family member became concerned at the victim’s account transactions and when discussing this at the bank Conway was tearful and accepted taking the money, which led to enquiries as to how much was stolen.
A figure of £70,000 was initially suggested and the bank began an investigation, with which Conway cooperated and estimated she had taken in the region of £40,000.
She did this when the customer asked – for example – to withdraw £500, she would process the transaction as £1,000, pocketing the extra and knowing the receipt would not be checked.
In addition, she admitted taking cash directly from the customer’s account and forging her signature.
A defence barrister told the court his client fully cooperated with both the bank and police investigations and accepted her guilt from the outset.
She had, he said, endured several years of significant stresses and become addicted to online gambling, rarely if ever winning.
He referred to a psychiatric report which found Conway had “impaired control” due to the gambling addiction and “gave increasing priority to this at the expense of other life interests and activities.”
The defence urged the court to show leniency and allow Conway to continue to rebuild her life and refrain from imprisonment to allow her to remain in the family home with her husband and young children, taking into consideration her guilty pleas and remorse.
Judge Sherrard described Conway’s offending as a “double breach of trust” with both the customer and bank suffering.
He told her, “You developed an online gambling disorder in 2015 and progressed to servicing that by stealing money from an elderly customer of the bank where you were employed. When concerns were raised you contacted the family and attempted to resolve these, but they insisted the bank was alerted, which led to the police investigation. It became clear the thefts amounted to anything between £91,000 and £172,000 … I am mindful of other stressors in your life over the period of offending but these certainly do not excuse your behaviour.”
He imposed a sentence of 22-months imprisonment, but due to her “exceptional circumstances” agreed to suspend this for three years.
She is also to pay £20,000 to the bank who reimbursed the victim in full.
With sentencing concluded press referred to a previously submitted challenge to the reporting restriction and requested this to be removed.
The defence argued it should be made permanent as Conway has previous mental health issues led to the original reporting ban being imposed.
However Judge Sherrard remarked: “There is an exceptionally strong constitutional imperative for open justice and the system falls into disrepute when it departs from that. Invariably, with anybody standing in the dock there is a price to pay concerning mental health, but the hurdle is particularly high and I do not consider it met in this case.”