Derry trainee accountant receives 12 month sentence for fraud offences

James Heaney.
James Heaney.

A trainee accountant from Derry has received a one year jail term after pleading guilty to a litany of fraud charges.

46-year-old James Joseph Heaney, whose address was given in court as 62 Spruce Meadows in the city, received the term at Derry Crown Court this afternoon (October 28, 2015).

Heaney faced a total of 19 charges which were three counts of fraud of false representation, two counts of using a false instrument with intent, five counts of theft, three counts of concealing criminal property, three counts of furnishing a false VAT return, two counts of fraudulently claiming tax credits and a single count of attempted forgery.

It emerged in court that the total financial gain to the defendant was in the region of £70,000.

In determining the sentence in the case, Crown Court Judge Stephen Fowler said that aggravating factors in the case were that Heaney had broken trust on two levels, namely that he had sought to defraud his friends, the owners of Hillbillies’ Chicken, whose accounts he had been managing and also in his capacity as a trainee accountant.

Judge Fowler said that James Heaney’s actions represented a “multiplicity of offending” and that some of the charges had implicated his children.

However, Judge Fowler did list a series of mitigating circumstances on behalf of the defendant before passing sentence.

The judge noted that Mr Heaney had no previous offences of a similar gravity and that he had assumed sole blame for the crimes. It was also noted by Judge Fowler that the defendant had become a “broken man” after he had become bankrupt, that he had medical issues and that he himself had drawn attention to HMRC that he had submitted incorrect VAT returns. The court also noted that Mr Heaney’s wife was disabled and that “will suffer greatly because of his actions.”

The court also heard that James Heaney had adopted an autistic child and had cared for them over the last number of years for which he was also given credit. A report from the Probation Service also concluded that the 46-year-old posed a medium risk of re-offending over the next two years and that he presented no danger to the public.

However, Judge Fowler said that the range of fraud involved in the case fell with the £20,000 to £120,000 range and therefore it carried a potential custodial term of up to five years. The judge also reiterated the words of Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan that those who choose to defraud the tax system would inevitably have to expect a jail term.

Prior to handing down a sentence to James Heaney, Judge Fowler told Derry Crown Court: “This is a case in which I have unfortunately come to the conclusion that the length the defendant went to in the offences and the amount of money involved means they cannot be dealt with by means of suspended sentences.

“Despite moving depositions on his behalf there are clear directions which mean the obligations on judges to impose proper sentences cannot be removed. I am more than acutely aware of the hardship this will cause and I recognise the defendants guilty plea, otherwise this would a much more severe sentence. Had he contested these charges I would have imposed a sentence of 18 months, but I am giving a determinate sentence of 12 months.”

James Heaney was ordered to spend a period of six months in prison and a further six months on post custody licence with the terms to run concurrently.