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Former Freemasons treasurer jailed for a year for theft of £120,000 from his own lodge

Masonic Lodge treasurer Stanley Murphy at Belfast Crown Court before he was jailed for a year for fraud. Picture by Hugh Russell.

A FORMER senior member of the Freemasons was jailed for a year today after he admitted stealing over £120,000 from his own lodge.

Bankrupt accountant William Stanley Murphy (63), of Broomhill Park, Magheralin, Co Down, was told by a judge at Belfast Crown Court that he would spend a further year on supervised licence following his release from prison for his "breach of trust''.

In May this year, the defendant had pleaded not guilty to a total of 15 charges when he appeared at the same court for an arraignment hearing.

But three months later, Murphy was re-arraigned on all the charges he faced and pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud by abuse of position and further entered guilty pleas to 14 counts of stealing a total of £121,504 from the Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim, which previously had its headquarters in Rosemary Street in Belfast city centre.

The fraud by abuse of position took place over a five year period dating back a decade.

Prosecution barrister Kate McKay told the court that in September 2014 police received a complaint from the organisation saying its treasurer had committed the theft.

Records showed that over the five period from June 2006 and March 2011 that a total of 14 cheques were used by Murphy to defraud the lodge.

The court was told that the fraud came to light in 2012 when the organisation changed auditors who conducted a review of its financial affairs.

The cheques used in the fraud needed two signatures but for ease of business, the court heard, they were already pre-signed by another member of the lodge and Murphy would then sign his name on the cheque and use them to make fraudulent payments.

The prosecutor said Murphy, who was bankrupted in October 2014, had limited assets and lived in a one-bedroom flat in Magheralin valued at £28,000.

The court heard that during the course of two police interviews, he denied carrying out the fraud, citing his "mental health issues'' and could not recall the matters.

However, he later admitted to police that he "made a mistake'' in using a lodge cheque to settle the £24,000 tax bill owed to HM Revenue and Customs.

Ms McKay said the main aggravating features were that it was a "breach of trust case'' as Murphy was placed in a position of trust as treasurer and that there was "some degree of sophistication'' used by Murphy to carry out the fraud.

Defence barrister Patrick Taggart told the court that Murphy was estranged from his wife and was "highly stressed'' over court proceedings, had ongoing physical and mental health problems, including suffering from depression.

Judge McFarland said that "it would appear to have been lax procedures'' by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim which allowed Murphy to write his signature on pre-signed cheques to carry out his fraud.

The Belfast Recorder sentenced Murphy to a year in jail.

The judge also made a confiscation order for £28,000 and gave Murphy six months to pay back the money to the Provincial Grand Lodge of Antrim.

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