Conman jailed for selling fake fire safety glass to primary schools and hospitals around country
A fraudster who sold fake fire-resistant glass to be fitted in hospitals and primary schools across Ireland and the UK has been jailed for 12 months.
Seamus James Laverty, 58, of Deerpark Road, Toomebridge in Northern Ireland risked the lives of children, the elderly and patients in hospitals for money, police have said.
The maternity unit of the Ulster Hospital in Belfast, Tallaght Hospital in Dublin and the National University of Ireland in Galway are among almost 70 sites where counterfeit fire glass had been supplied by Laverty.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer in charge, Detective Sergeant Colin Gray, said the "potential loss of life in this case cannot be underestimated".
Fire resistant glass provides protection for lives and property in the event of fire by helping to contain fire and smoke within a building. From 2010 to 2013 Laverty supplied standard laminate glass for use in buildings, claiming it was fire-resistant glass.
Laverty pleaded guilty to 16 counts of fraud at Antrim Crown Court.
Judge Desmond Marrinan described the risk posed to the public by his actions as "chilling".
He said it was just "by the grace of God" the fraudulent glass had not been put to the test.
A defence lawyer told the court the £140,000 (€160,246) fraud was a reaction by Laverty to financial difficulties, not greed.
The court heard Laverty found himself in financial difficulties in 2007 and was eventually declared bankrupt. His son took over his company and he became an employee and that is when he began supplying the counterfeit glass.
"This is an extremely concerning case ... You placed members of the public at very serious risk," said the judge.
He added: "The financial loss to contractors is not insignificant, but it pales into insignificance with the risk you were prepared to take.
"You are a man who, until this most regrettable series of events took place, was highly thought of. The courts cannot ignore the seriousness of what you have done. Fortunately no one was actually hurt but the exposure of members of the public to risk clearly demands a custodial sentence."
Members of Laverty's family broke down in tears when the judge jailed him for 12 months with a further 12 months on licence.
Speaking outside court Mr Gray said the actions of Laverty "can only be described as reckless and dangerous".
He added: "That glass has been installed at schools, hospitals, churches, nursing homes, and universities. The clear health and safety risks posed by his actions is evident. He has put at risk children, the elderly, patients at hospital and not forgetting our colleagues in the fire and rescue service."
Mr Gray added: "If a fire had started at any of these locations we would be looking at fatalities or serious injury. In 2013 police started this investigation. At no time did Mr Laverty assist ... You cannot underestimate the potential loss of life here."
Laverty was working for a now dissolved company called Glassworks Ireland Limited, based in Randalstown, Co Antrim, at the time of the scam. His son had taken over the company after Laverty's bankruptcy and he was in charge of operations on the factory floor.
Police first became aware of the scam in 2012 following a tip-off from a competitor who had become suspicious of the cheap tenders Glassworks Ireland were able to provide for the supply of fire-resistant glass.
As part of their investigations officers visited almost 100 sites across Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, parts of the UK and the Netherlands.
Amongst the buildings discovered to have been supplied with the counterfeit glass were: The Ulster Hospital; Maghera Parish Church; Greenvale Leisure Centre; Magherafelt High School; Downpatrick Civic Centre; Carrick Primary School; Tallaght Hospital in Dublin; The National University of Ireland in Galway and Lisburn Road Methodist Church in Belfast.
Other buildings the glass was supplied to included: Strathearn School in Belfast; Brooklands Care Home; the Almac Laboratory; Urban Retail Outlet, Camden, London; the Renold Building at the University of Manchester; DW Sports, Leicester, Coliemore Apartments, Dublin; DW Sports, Gainsborough; Titanic Quarter, Belfast; The French Rooms, Bushmills; St James House, Dublin; St Mary's National School in County Meath and Scoil Oilibheir Naofa in Laytown.