Sunday 21 April 2024

Church fraudster spared prison for sake of blind wife

Edwin Reginald Wallace: Fraudster admits cashing cheques from parish  church's bank account |

A disgraced former church treasurer who cashed £50,000 in cheques to feed his drink and gambling addictions has narrowly avoided jail.

A defence lawyer for Edwin Reginald Wallace asked that the 66-year-old’s crimes be dealt with through an enhanced combination order of probation and community service.

But Judge Paul Ramsey KC told Newry Crown Court the crimes were “too serious for a community-based sentence”.

He said the amount of money, the length of time over which the offences were committed and the abuse of trust involved led him to the belief that the “custody threshold has been passed”.

The judge imposed an 18-month prison sentence but suspended it for two years because of what he called “exceptional factors”.

Wallace, from Elmfield Villas in Warrenpoint, admitted abusing his position of trust as treasurer of Clonallon/Warrenpoint Parish Church to cash cheques from its bank account for his own benefit.

The crimes were committed on dates between August 13, 2019, and October 12, 2021.

Judge Ramsey told the court the fraud was discovered after a distressed and suicidal man called Lifeline in November 2021.

He said he was “the treasurer of Clonallon/Warrenpoint Parish Church and that he had taken approximately £50,000 from church funds”, the court heard.

Wallace made full admissions after he was spoken to by police officers, confessing to writing out cheques and cashing them for his own benefit.

Judge Ramsey told the hearing the case had both aggravating and mitigating features.

As highlighted in submissions from defence lawyer Kevin O’Hare, Wallace had a clear record, had alerted the police to the frauds, had made full admissions and had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

The fraudster was born and raised in Enniskillen and had a career in banking before taking up a job as a financial adviser in Kilkeel prior to retiring in 2018.

Judge Ramsey said the Covid pandemic exacerbated personal problems in Wallace’s life, with alcohol consumption and gambling coming to the fore and transforming from “minor problems to serious ones”.

​He added he had started taking the money with a view to paying it back but, as with many fraudsters, “it got out of hand” and culminated in the call to Lifeline.

The judge said: “He has expressed shame and embarrassment to the police throughout.”

With Wallace acting as a carer for his blind wife and his disabled son, Judge Ramsey decided to suspend the 18-month prison sentence for two years.

He also ordered the defendant to pay the church £7,500 within six months.

Judge Ramsey said: “I appreciate you are not in a position in any way (to pay back the remainder of the money), but I feel that you should make some contribution (to the church).”

The court was told that while the church’s insurance company had paid out £10,000, the parish was still facing a loss of around £40,000.