Northern Ireland news

Ex-GAA star Johnny McGurk begins 10-month jail sentence

Johnny McGurk arrives at Antrim Crown Court before being jailed for 10 months for stealing from his employer. Picture by Mark Jamieson
Staff Reporter

FORMER GAA star Johnny McGurk was beginning a 10-month jail term on Thursday night for stealing more than half a million pounds from his employer to feed a gambling addiction.

The 50-year-old, who brought construction firm Patrick Bradley Ltd in Kilrea to the verge of bankruptcy, told experts he was placing bets of up to £3,000 a time and the thrill of wins was "like playing football again".

McGurk, of Drummuck Road near Maghera, won an All-Ireland medal with Derry in 1993 and was named a GAA All Star.

He pleaded guilty to the theft of £572,206 from the quarry and tarmac firm and 34 other charges involving fraud by abuse of his position of trust from July 2006 until the end of 2011.

McGurk, who provided references from a range of GAA officials, clergy, an un-named former Irish rugby international and an un-named senior unionist politician - showed no emotion as he was led off to begin serving his sentence.

Antrim Crown Court Judge Desmond Marrinan had told him he "almost wrecked" his former employer and for a long time it had been at risk of financial collapse.

He said like many top-level sports stars, it appeared the "excitement and the thrill one gets out of playing at the very highest level needed to be replaced with something".

His downfall showed how "a decent man can ruin his life by succumbing to the seductive siren call of gambling".

The judge said McGurk, who was Bradley's accountant for 18 years, may have harboured an honest but unrealistic view that he could have paid the money back "with the next roll of the dice".

He also accepted there was no evidence he had spent the money on extravagances, having even emptied £38,000 from the joint account with his wife for gambling.

Judge Marrinan said one wondered when, if ever, he would have stopped taking the money which was only noticed due to the alertness of an incoming managing director.

He said the case had devastated McGurk's life and he accepted he is remorseful and had lost his "good name", while the "sad and distressing" case had also seriously damaged his marriage.

The judge noted that whilst on bail he continued to coach GAA football to young people not only at the Lavey club, with whom he previously won an All-Ireland club title, but also another club.

A report described McGurk as a "pathological" gambler and after his addiction was uncovered he had sought counselling and attended Gamblers Anonymous.

The judge saidMcGurk, without any other blot on his character, deserved credit for a guilty plea and his assistance to police.

However, he ordered him to serve 10 months without remission, in the hope he would come out of prison "chastened", followed by 20 months of licensed supervision to help "kill off this addiction".

The judge noted McGurk was not able to make recompense to the firm, but said £3,000 of winnings at Fairyhouse racecourse found in a company filing cabinet are to be given to it.

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