Sean O’Neill (32), of Cypress Park, Cloughmills, pleaded guilty to a charge of ‘fraud by abuse of position’.
On Tuesday (August 16), he sat with his head bowed at Antrim Magistrates’ Court, currently being held in Ballymena.
He admitted that on March 16 this year, ‘whilst occupying a position in which you were expected to safeguard, or not to act against, the financial interests of’ a man, ‘dishonestly abused that position in that you obtained details of his bank card and attempted to remove money from it to the total of £450’.
A charge of stealing £190 from the man on March 16 was withdrawn by prosecutors.
A prosecutor said on March 16 a female visited her father who was receiving palliative care in the coronary care unit at Antrim Area Hospital and she checked his wallet which contained £190 in cash and a bank card.
The wallet was in his jacket which had been hung on a chair beside his bed.
Also on March 16, the prosecutor said, a friend of the man noted the cash was removed from the wallet.
Messages from the patient’s bank were sent to the patient’s phone relating to “an attempted transaction of £200 to William Hill Online and asking for confirmation” by phone.
The prosecutor said the man’s family requested the bank “to stop the transaction”.
The prosecutor said the patient “passed away on the 19th of March”.
The court heard William Hill said the bank card had been used in an attempt to “fund an online betting account registered in the name of Sean O’Neill”.
Police arrested the defendant and during interview he said he worked as a ‘health care assistant in Ward B3 of Antrim Area Hospital’ when the man had been staying on the ward.
O’Neill admitted three attempted transactions to a total value of £450 but denied taking any cash.
A defence lawyer said the defendant, who had a previously clear record, has sought help with Community Addictions.
A reference was handed in to court on behalf of O’Neill.
The lawyer said it was a “very distasteful offence” and “there is no one that recognised that more than” the defendant who was “filled with remorse and shame”.
She said it had been an “aberration” as the defendant had worked six years at the hospital without incident.
The lawyer said the use of the card was described by O’Neill as a “moment of madness”. She said the defendant had been suspended from work in connection with the case and was likely to lose his job.
The lawyer said it was accepted the defendant would likely never work again in a care-giving role and will find it difficult to get any sort of work.
District Judge Nigel Broderick said: “That is what happens when you are in a position of trust. When you abuse it then the consequences are both, being dealt with by the criminal courts and you invariably lose your job because you can’t be trusted again”.
The judge told O’Neill: “It is a very nasty offence. You were in a position of trust and this poor victim was there receiving palliative care and you made a gross abuse of that trust by taking his card to gamble”.
Thankfully, said Judge Broderick, the security provisions in place prevented any money being lost.
“But still it is a major intrusion on the victim’s personal finances and it would have had a knock-on effect on his family. Whenever you leave a family member in the care of others, who is receiving palliative care, the last thing you expect them to do is to go through his personal items and steal money and that is what you tried to do.
“As a consequence of that you will probably lose your job and you have placed your liberty very much at issue”.
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Judge Broderick said what was saving O’Neill from being jailed was no money having being taken; he had a clear record; he was seeing Community Addictions and he appeared to have expressed “genuine remorse”.
O’Neill was given a six months prison sentence, suspended for three years.