A former employee of Belfast’s Grand Opera House who stole over £20,000 from the theatre over a five-year period was spared jail on Wednesday.
Handing Eamonn McColgan a suspended sentence, Judge Stephen Fowler QC noted he has now paid back all the money he stole, and said: “There is no doubt these sums of money would have been very important, and I accept it had an impact upon the Opera House.”
The 38-year-old, from Old Shore Court in Carrickfergus, was handed a 12-month sentence, which was suspended for two years.
During the period of his offending, McColgan was employed as the Ticketing Sales Manager, and used this position to steal a total of £20,602.23 over a period from February 2013 to February 2018.
Having started working in the Opera House in 2007, he was responsible for booking seats for customers and dealing with enquiries. Other responsibilities included issuing refunds and upgrading customers’ seats.
Prosecutor Simon Jenkins told Belfast Crown Court McColgan’s offending emerged last February when the Grand Opera House’s head of finance contacted the PSNI to report suspicions that money was being stolen.
Mr Jenkins said that over a five-year period, McColgan refunded ticket sales to the total of £20,602.23 which he was not entitled to and which he transferred in various sums into accounts or bank cards in his name.
He also revealed McColgan used four different accounts and cards to transfer the money in 387 separate transactions over a five-year period.
When he was interviewed on February 26 last year, McColgan made a full admission and admitted stealing the money. He pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud by abuse of position, and has subsequently paid back all the money he stole.
Defence barrister Martin Morgan said his client was a man of “previously impeccable good character” who was deeply ashamed of his actions.
Urging Judge Fowler not to send his client to jail, Mr Morgan said a loss of McColgan’s liberty would have a significant impact on his wife and young children.
Saying McColgan “has done everything right” since his arrest, including admitting his criminality and paying back the full amount he stole, Mr Morgan said that at the time of offending, his client was experiencing “certain financial pressures.”
Handing McColgan a suspended sentence, Judge Fowler said he accepted McColgan had “significant mental health problems” at the time. The Judge also noted McColgan’s previous good character, and said: “The disgrace he has brought upon himself, his wife and young family is punishment also in its own right.”
McColgan was warned by Judge Fowler that if he committed any further offending within the next two years “in all probability” he would be sent to jail.