EX USPCA Chief Handed Suspended Sentence

A former chief executive of the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA), a prominent animal charity in Northern Ireland, has avoided a prison sentence after being found guilty of fraud.

Stephen Philpott, 55, of Ashgrove Road in Newry was sentenced to nine months suspended for two years at Newry Crown Court on Monday 17 December.

In September, he admitted to abusing his position by obtaining rental payments for an address in Bessbrook, County Armagh, that belonged to the charity.

The offences took place over a seven-year period between January 2007 and November 2014.

Judge Gordon Kerr QC told Mr Philpott that he was taking the exceptional course in suspending his nine month jail term for two years given his ill-health.

He added that the defendant had made full restitution "so the USPCA can now, as they should have done, use that money for their proper activities".

Judge Kerr also said while the amount taken was large, "it was accrued over seven years at a relatively modest rate", and the evidence showed his offending "was conducted openly, and ended in 2014, some four years ago".

During the brief hearing, the Judge outlined that Mr Philpott had been involved with the charity for 25 years and during his time as chief executive had been a "high-profile leader".

He accepted that the defendant had at times placed himself at risk in that role by opposing illegal animal sports such as badger baiting.
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Mr Philpott was charged in relation to obtaining the rent but "failed to account for the said payments and failed to bring notice of the said payments to the attention of the USPCA, with the intention, by means of the abuse of that position to make a gain for yourself or another or to cause loss to the USPCA".

The court heard the rental income was £400 per month and the total amount unaccounted for over the offending period was £40,000.

In relation to the conviction, PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson said: "This was a complex investigation by detectives from the PSNI's Economic Crime Unit who worked tirelessly to bring Stephen Philpott to court for his dishonesty. 

"During his time as Chief Executive of the USPCA, Mr Philpott was financially responsible for the estate which included a Bessbrook property which was rented out to a tenant by the charity. Over the course of eight years, Mr Philpott received rental payments amounting to over £40,000 yet this money was never received by the USPCA. In an attempt to cover his tracks Mr Philpott claimed that the money was used to purchase goods and services for the charity but records showed that the items were actually paid for by money from the USPCA's bank account. 

"Despite having responsibility for ensuring the financial wellbeing of the charity, Mr Philpott blatantly abused his position and the trust that was placed in him, deceiving his colleagues in a bid to satisfy his own greed and fraudulently receive large amounts of money. 

"His dishonest behaviour prevented the USPCA from receiving substantial funds; funds which could have been used to prevent cruelty and provide care for abandoned animals. Despite his role as Chief Executive at the time, it is clear that Mr Philpott did not subscribe to the values of the charity and chose to profit significantly at the expense of suffering animals in need of help. 

"We will relentlessly pursue anyone who seeks to abuse a trusted position to commit fraud."


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