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UK News Belfast church and music festival volunteer jailed for stealing over £76,000

19:20  14 february  2020
19:20  14 february  2020 Source:   belfastlive.co.uk

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A convicted fraudster who used his position as treasurer to steal money from both a church and a charity was back behind bars on Friday.

Denis William Mackie - a former director of a company that provided financial advice to the Law Society for Northern Ireland - was handed a nine-month sentence at Belfast Crown Court.

The 58-year old, from Thornhill Grove in Belfast, admitted stealing a total of £37,475.68 from St Dorothea’s Parish Church on dates between November 2009 and October 2015.

He also admitted stealing £39,190 from the Belfast Music Festival by making unauthorised cheques then lodging them into either his own bank account or St Dorothea’s, on dates between October 2014 and April 2016.

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In addition, the father-of-two admitted a single offence of writing a cheque from the church’s funds for £18,000 which did not clear, due to insufficient funds.

Judge Neil Rafferty QC was told the criminality occurred whilst Mackie acted as treasurer for both organisations, and that his offending amounted to a serious breach of trust.

The Judge was also told that as a result of Mackie’s offending, the Reverend of the church said ‘it will take generations for the finances to recover’, while the future of Belfast Music Festival - a charity which promotes local talent and which has been in existence for 110 years - ‘hangs in the balance.’

Crown prosecutor Philip Henry said Mackie’s thefts from the church emerged after an investigation was launched due to concerns about financial irregularities.

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Mackie held the voluntary position as the church’s treasurer from 2005 to 2016 with Mr Henry revealing “he had been part of the congregation since he was a child”.

The investigation revealed that Mackie had written 40 unauthorised cheques and made several cash withdrawals from various church accounts over a prolonged period.

Mr Henry said the Reverend of St Dorothea’s spoke of a ‘great sense of betrayal’ at Mackie’s actions which he branded a ‘calculated abuse of his position.’ The Rev also said ‘the hurt was is palpable’ amongst the congregation.

Turning to Belfast Music Festival, Mr Henry said the non-profit organisation - which promotes local talent in music, drama and performing arts - also suffered financial irregularities.

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Police were alerted after it emerged a large number of cheques had been written from their account to St Dorothea’s. A total of 11 cheques were lodged into the church’s account, totalling £28,360.

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As a result of Mackie’s actions, the acting treasurer for Belfast Music Festival revealed they had to reply on ‘loans and donations from friends’ to stay afloat, and its future is now uncertain.

Mr Henry said that as Mackie was stealing from the Festival accounts which he then lodged into St Dorothea’s accounts, there was “a certain amount of robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

Mackie was handed a 12-month sentence in July 2017 after he admitted that in his role as an executive director of a company linked to the Law Society, he was able to steal over £50,000 from the accounts of two clients.

Defence barrister John Kearney QC said the root of Mackie’s offending was grounded in financial difficulties linked to both the break-up of his marriage, the recession and “desperately trying to keep his house”.

Saying Mackie “got bitten by the death of the Celtic Tiger in 2007”, Mr Kearney said Mackie tried to solve his financial problems by re-mortgaging his house.

Mr Kearney revealed that in the midst of Mackie’s offending, he was “pretending to go to work” when he had no job, with this pretence due to “shame and embarrassment about the situation he got himself into”.

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Mackie’s barrister said that after he was released from prison for his previous offending, Mackie has “managed to get himself back to work” and is “re-establishing links with his family”.

Regarding the money he took, Mr Kearney confirmed most of the money taken from Belfast Music Festival was put into the St Doreatha’s accounts, with Mackie also using the money he stole to put his children through university.

During today’s sentencing, Judge Neil Rafferty branded Mackie’s offending as the “systematic syphoning of funds” which had left the church in a “perilous financial state” and the future of Belfast Music Festival uncertain.

Saying both organisations “have sustained very significant and long-lasting financial damage”, the Judge said it appeared Mackie’s offending was “a mis-guided sense of wanted to keep up a pretence” and “living beyond his means”.

Addressing Mackie and handing him a nine-month prison sentence, Judge Rafferty told the Belfast man “there is absolutely no doubt your actions were motivated out of self-interest”.

After it emerged that Mackie had £1,000 in his bank account, the Judge ordered that £500 be paid to both St Dorothea’s and Belfast Music Festival - but accepted this limited compensation “may be a mere drop in the ocean”.

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