Ex-DUP councillor given supended sentence for Assembly oil fraud

A former DUP councillor on Derry City Council who admitted receiving home heating oil paid for by the Northern Ireland Assembly has been given a suspended sentence.

Friday, 1st April 2016, 4:06 pm
Updated Saturday, 2nd April 2016, 9:11 am
Bill Irwin, Drew Thompson and Linda Watson.

William Irwin, of Duncastle Road, Newbuildings, pleaded guilty to 23 charges of fraud by false representation between March 2009 and February 2014.

Derry Magistrates Court heard that the 55-year-old was the constituency office manager for William Hay in Ebrington Terrace.

In 2014 the BBC made Freedom of Information requests about MLA expenses.

The former speaker of the Assembly Mr. Hay noticed discrepancies between the amount of oil being delivered and the amount invoiced for.

He voiced his concerns to the Clerk of the Assembly and was advised to go to the police.

Irwin was suspended and an investigation was launched.

It was noticed that some of the signatures for the oil were different from Mr. Hay’s normal one.

It was also found that the capacity for the oil tank at the DUP office was 1,100 litres and some deliveries were in excess of that.

The court heard that on 23 occasions Irwin had oil delivered to his home while charging the DUP office and therefore the Assembly for it.

On most occasions he had oil delivered simultaneously to the office and home but on some it was delivered straight to his home.

The total amount of money involved was almost £9,000.

During police interview, Irwin said he had oil delivered on two occasions in lieu of expenses he believed he was owed.

He accepted that William Hay was unaware of this, but believed he would have permitted it if he had known.

Defence barrister Mark Reel said that his client accepted full responsibility for his actions.

He added that Irwin was in financial difficulties at the time but this in no way excused his actions.

He said Irwin had already refunded £5,000 to the Assembly and intended to repay the rest immediately.

The barrister submitted references from various community organisations in the city praising Irwin’s role in the community.

One reference described him as ‘an unsung hero’ of efforts to resolve tensions around parading in the city.

Deputy District Judge Noel Dunlop said these were ‘serious offences and a gross breach of trust.’

The judge suspended a six month sentence for two years.

He also ordered Irwin to pay compensation to the value of £8,939.