Derry Crown Court has been told that the theft of £60,000 by the honorary treasurer of the Culmore and Muff Church of Ireland Parish Church in the city has 'a disastrous effect on the church.'
27 year-old Lyndsey Bredin of Primity Crescent in Newbuildings on the outskirts of Derry admitted 19 counts of theft that occurred between March 2010 and October 2011.
The court was told that Bredin, who wept in the dock throughout the hearing, in her role as treasurer was writing cheques on church funds and making them payable to herself.
Prosecution barrister Mr. Andrew Crawford said that Bredin had been elected honorary treasurer in 2009 and had taken up her post in 2010. Her role was to keep accounts for the church to present to the Select Vestry and also to pay the relevant bills needed for the upkeep of the church.
The court heard that it became apparent around the end of 2010 that the role was not being fulfilled and this was initially put down to her inability to cope or personal difficulties.
Bredin then told the church she was suffering from ME and it was suggested that she should stand down which she did in November 2011.
In November 2011 a Reverend Miller reported to police that he believed money had gone missing from Church funds.
Bredin was asked to sign off on the accounts and she handed in one page of accounts with no receipts or invoices and this was deemed unsatisfactory.
A retired accountant was brought in to carry out an audit and the offences came to light.
Mr. Crawford said the money had been 'frittered away.'
He said that it had been spent on weekends away, meals and paying utility bills. The largest spend had been $4000 for a car. When interviewed by police she admitted the offences and said she was ashamed.
The court heard that the theft had major impact on the morale of the congregation and their attempts to maintain the church.
It was said that no money had been repaid.
Defence barrister Mr. Ivor McAteer said he had to acknowledge 'the severity of the offences and the impact upon a vibrant and strong but quite small church community.'
He said that the offences had impacted on Bredin's family who 'were immersed within the church community, whose lives centred around the church and even their social life was based on the church.'
Mr. McAteer said it was 'almost a relief' for Bredin when the offences came to light as 'she knew she was doing wrong and it was contrary to all she had been taught.' He said that there were pressures on her and she had just come out of an abusive relationship.
He said Bredin's family were standing by her and she hoped to get on with her life although it would be difficult to find employment due to the breach of trust. He added: "This woman is in bits because of the pain and hurt she has caused to the community she was an integral part of.
The guilt she feels will endure long after the dust from this case settles."
Judge Philip Babington said it was a 'very difficult case' and adjourned sentencing until April 29 and released Bredin on bail. He told her not to take the fact she had been granted bail as any indication as to how she will be dealt with.