Ex-soldier freed over British Legion theft

Scales of justice
Scales of justice

A former soldier, who confessed to taking over £13,000 from a local British Legion Club, has been given an 18-month suspended jail sentence.

Antrim Crown Court Judge Corinne Philpott told 49-year-old Michael Joseph Curtis last Tuesday she was suspending his sentence for two years because he had repaid the monies and his guilty confession from the outset.

The former squaddie, turned postman, from Convention Avenue in Portstewart, pleaded guilty to a total of seven charges of fraud and false accounting from May 2008 to December 2009 from the Portstewart branch of the RBL where he was the treasurer.

Prosecutor Conor Maguire said that in February 2010 Curtis had confessed to the chairman and full board of the Legion that he had cashed cheques totalling £13,509.

The prosecution lawyer said that the chairman of the branch called in the police and when interviewed on a number of occasions, Curtis made full admissions and had also provided detectives with a written statement which they used as part of their investigations.

Mr Maguire also revealed that Curtis, who had a completely clear record, had made full restitution to the Legion since the offences came to light.

Defence lawyer Michael Smyth said Curtis had been treasurer of his local branch for three years, a position he had not sought, but had been asked to take on.

Mr Smyth said normally cheques could only be cashed after they had been signed by Curtis and two others, but that they had taken to signing a large number of cheques in advance.

The lawyer said shortly after buying a house in 2008, his wife took ill and was unable to work for a time and bills began to mount and Curtis feared he would not be able to meet his mortgage repayments.

“That is where the temptation arose to take money,” said Mr Smyth, who revealed that with the help of his father, Curtis had been able to repay the Legion, but was now in debt to him.

Judge Philpott said it was clear Curtis did not want the responsibility of being a treasurer, but took on the position which he then found all too easy to abuse.

Organisation cheques, said the judge, often had to be counter-signed to prevent this type of fraud happening, and therefore should not be signed in advance by anyone.

Judge Philpott however added that by his admissions and the way he had dealt with the case, Curtis had lightened the stress and trouble for the membership of his Legion branch.