Londonderry accountant given a year in jail for fraud

James Heaney.
James Heaney.

An accountant from Londonderry received a one year jail sentence when he appeared at the Crown Court, where he admitted a litany of fraud charges.

James Joseph Heaney (46), of 62 Spruce Meadows, was sentenced this afternoon, Wednesday, October 28.

He faced 19 charges, including three counts of fraud or false representation, two counts of using a false instrument with intent, five counts of theft, three counts of concealing criminal property, three counts of furnishing a false VAT return, two counts of fraudulently claiming tax credits and a single count of attempted forgery.

The total financial gain to the defendant was in the region of £70,000, the court heard.

Crown Court Judge Stephen Fowler said aggravating factors were that Heaney had broken trust on two levels, in that he had sought to defraud his friends, the owners of Hillbillies’ Chicken, whose accounts he had been managing, and in his capacity as a trainee accountant.

He described Heaney’s actions as a “multiplicity of offending” and noted some of the charges had implicated his children, but said mitigating circumstances were that Mr Heaney had no previous similar offences and that he had assumed sole blame for the crimes.

Heaney was described as a “broken man” after he had become bankrupt; he had medical issues and brought matters to the attention to HMRC himself. The court also noted that Mr Heaney’s wife was disabled and would suffer greatly because of his actions.

The court was told Heaney had adopted an autistic child, for which he was also given credit.

Imposing sentence Judge Fowler said the range of fraud involved in the case fell with the £20,000 to £120,000 range and carried a potential custodial term of up to five years and he reiterated the words of Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan that those who choose to defraud the tax system would inevitably have to expect a jail term.

“This is a case in which I have, unfortunately, come to the conclusion that the length the defendant went to in the offences and the amount of money involved means they cannot be dealt with by means of suspended sentences.

“Despite moving depositions on his behalf there are clear directions which mean the obligations on judges to impose proper sentences cannot be removed. I am more than acutely aware of the hardship this will cause and I recognise the defendants guilty plea, otherwise this would a much more severe sentence. Had he contested these charges I would have imposed a sentence of 18 months, but I am giving a determinate sentence of 12 months.”

Heaney is to spend a period of six months in prison and six on licence, concurrently.