Monday 20 November 2017

Man stole almost €40k of dying dad's savings - and told his siblings in hospital bedside confession

Martin O'Brien (55), from Rossnagalliagh Park in Derry
Martin O'Brien (55), from Rossnagalliagh Park in Derry

George Jackson

A man given the responsibility by his brother and two sisters of looking after their father's financial affairs has been jailed for six months for stealing £30,000 (€37,800)of the savings to fund his gambling.

Martin O'Brien (55), from Rossnagalliagh Park in Derry, kept his gambling addiction secret from his siblings as he persuaded them to each sign a piece of paper giving him the sole authority to deal with their father's financial affairs.

His father was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and was going into care.

O'Brien admitted stealing the money from his father Douglas' Derry Credit Union, Pennyburn Credit Union and Post Office savings accounts over a three-year period starting in July 2010, the month when his father was admitted to a local nursing home suffering from dementia.

Mr O'Brien's health deteriorated to such an extent that he was admitted to Altnagelvin Hospital in March 2013.

His family was informed he didn't have long to live.

On April 24, 2013, two days before their father died, O'Brien told one of his sisters, as they sat beside their father in hospital, that he'd taken the money. There has been no contact between O'Brien and his siblings since the hospital bedside confession.

Following Mr O'Brien's funeral, police enquiries were carried out and they revealed that when the defendant took over his father's finances there was just over £10,000 in his Derry Credit Union account, just over £13,000 in his Pennyburn Credit Union account and £6,000 in his Post Office account.

At Mr O'Brien's death, there was £7.18 in his Derry Credit Union Account, £22.06 in the Pennyburn Account and nothing in his Post Office account.

"Examples of how he obtained money and the use of documentation was shown by the fact that he would get invoices from the nursing home and on the strength of that he would get a cheque from Pennyburn Credit Union. The invoice was then receipted and the defendant then took that to the Derry Credit Union which paid him the equivalent of the invoice in cash which he retained for his own use," Judge Philip Babington said.

"The defendant was interviewed by the police regarding these matters and said he had given money of his own which he had won from gambling to his father to keep for him.

"He said that with his father's dementia worsening, he might not have remembered and therefore the only way to get the money back was to take it from his accounts. During his interviews he also made allegations regarding his two sisters and brother," Judge Babington added.

A psychologist's report stated that O'Brien had a long history of gambling and of alcohol abuse but he had neither gambled nor consumed alcohol since his arrest. He has also been assessed at low likelihood of re-offending.

Judge Babington added: "This is quite clearly a serious breach of trust case in which the defendant's siblings gave him full authority to deal with their father's financial affairs and he quite clearly took advantage of his father's inability to look after them himself.

"This behaviour went on for nearly three years and was very cruelly brought to light as his father lay dying in the hospital.

"The money was used to fund the defendant's gambling addiction and although he says he was always hoping to pay the money back that, of course, was a hopeless hope. The court does not know who would have benefited under the estate but it is clear the money should never have been taken in the first place."

O'Brien will serve half his 12-month jail sentence in custody and half on licence on release.

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