The theft of £60,000 from a Church of Ireland parish had a ‘disastrous effect’, a court has heard.
Lyndsey Bredin, of Primity Crescent, Newbuildings, pleaded guilty to 19 charges of theft by an employee.
The offences were committed between March 2010 and October 2011.
Derry Crown Court heard that the 27-year-old had been employed as the honorary treasurer of Culmore and Muff Parish Church.
The registered book maker was elected to the role in 2009 and officially took up the position in January 2010.
It was revealed the thefts were reported to police by a Reverend in November 2011, after Bredin stepped down from the role.
At this time she had told the church she had been diagnosed with ME and she was asked to sign off the accounts so they could be handed over to the new treasurer.
Bredin, who wept throughout the court hearing, handed over a one page document but no invoices or documentation were produced.
The court was told the church asked a retired accountant to carry out an independent audit of the accounts and anomalies were found.
The 27-year-old had been signing cheques and lodging the money into her own personal account. In total she stole around £60,000.
It was revealed the money was ‘frittered away’ on utility bills, clothes and weekends away. Bredin also bought herself a car with £4,000 of the money.
The 27-year-old was arrested and during police interview made full admissions. She said she was ‘ashamed’ of what she had done and told officers about a number of personal difficulties she was having at the time.
A prosecution lawyer told the court the thefts had a ‘major impact on the church and the congregation in general’.
He added that the Culmore and Muff Parish were able to recoup around £30,000 from their insurance, but the rest remains lost to them.
Defence counsel Ivor McAteer told the court at the outset he had to ‘acknowledge the severity of the offence and the selfishness of the defendant’s actions.’
He added the thefts had ramifications for a ‘vibrant, strong and close knit church community’ and for the defendant and her wider family circle.
Mr McAteer told the court Bredin and her family were ‘deeply immersed’ in the parish and their lives ‘centred around the church’.
He added that they did not feel able to go back to the church as a result of the 27-year-old’s actions.
The defence counsel said it was ‘almost a relief’ when what Bredin had been doing came out. He said ‘she knew what she was doing was wrong and contrary to all that she had been taught and all her morals’.
The court heard the 27-year-old was under pressure at the time, was in an abusive relationship and diagnosed with health problems. The barrister told the court while this did not excuse Bredin’s actions it did explain them.
A psychologist’s report compiled on Bredin came to the opinion that Bredin ‘was unlikely to have committed the offences if she had been in good mental health’.
Mr McAteer said there was no likelihood the defendant could repay the money as she is on benefits and will find it difficult to find employment in the future.
The barrister urged the court to ‘show mercy’ to Bredin as ‘the guilt is something she is going to have to endure’ no matter what sentence is imposed.
Judge Philip Babington adjourned sentencing stating ‘this is a very difficult case. I have to consider everyone’s interests, particularly the victims’.
Bredin was released on bail until April 29.