N. Ireland Politics

Ex-church elder, Darren Johnston, jailed over fraud

A former church elder has been jailed for seven years after he cheated clients out of of nearly £1.5m.

Darren Johnston, 40, from Larne, was sentenced at Antrim Crown Court on Friday.

The former Presbyterian elder had defrauded the money from a Belfast based brokerage firm.

Among those who lost money was the firm's owner, Brian McGee, who lost up to £500,000 and former hotelier Bob McCooke who lost nearly £230,000.

The judge said that Johnston was "able to commit these frauds because he was completely trusted by his employer and had experience in how monies could be transferred and credit obtained without causing suspicion.

"He was hard working and appeared quite reliable and personable, the type of person who engendered trust," she said.

Luxury cars

The court heard that investors dealing with Johnston had been "defrauded of their life savings in some cases", and that he had left his employer a near bankrupt.

An earlier hearing was told that between 2006 and 2008, Johnston became responsible for the day to day running of the firm which had offices on Belfast's Great Victoria Street.

He used fake credit cards, taken out in his employer's name, and stolen cheques to fund a lavish lifestyle and to buy luxury cars, including a top of the range Volvo and a 4x4 people carrier and to pay off £20,000 in online gambling debts.

The judge said while probation reports indicated Johnston "feels extremely guilty and remorseful", he had "minimised" the effect his offending has had on himself and others.

She added that his guilty pleas were the only thing in his favour for the "gross breach of trust he has committed".

At the end of his sentence Johnston has agreed to serve a further 12 months on probation.