Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Fomer USPCA boss pleads guilty to fraud

The former head of the USPCA has pleaded guilty to using his position as Chief Executive to defraud the animal charity.  

55 year old Stephen Philpott, from Ashgrove Road in Newry entered a guilty plea to the fraud charge as his trial was about to commence in Newry Crown Court on Monday last.  The jury of five men and seven women had already been sworn in when, after an adjournment before the start of his trial,  defence QC, James Gallagher asked that the former USPCA boss be re-arraigned on the third count of the indictment.  

Philpott admitted to abusing his position by obtaining rental payments for a USPCA-owned property in Bessbrook and failing “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 or to expose the USPCA to a risk of a loss”.  The charge relates to a seven year period from January 2007 to November 2014.

Prosecution lawyer, Liam McCollum said, in light of the guilty plea, counts one and two, accusing Philpott of stealing from the animal charity and attempting to cause criminal damage to a residential property and its contents should “remain on the books, not to be proceeded with, without leave of the court or Court of Appeal”.

The particulars of the fraud were not given to the court during the shortened hearing.

Judge Gordon Kerr QC released Philpott on continuing bail until December during which time a pre-sentence and other reports, including the possibility for compensation proceedings. 

Following the ex-USPCA Chief’s guilty plea, Helen Wilson, Chairperson of the animal charity, released a statement outlining how the USPCA Board of Trustees had initiated an internal investigation on first becoming aware of “suspected financial irregularities” in 2014, before passing their findings on to the PSNI.

Miss Wilson added that Philpott’s guilty plea “fully justifies the trustee’s actions.”

“We would like to thank investigating officer Robert McAllen of PSNI for his diligence in leading the police investigation and securing a successful prosecution,” the statement continued.

“These matters were uncovered as a result of actions taken by the Trustees to strengthen governance oversight within the charity. It is with some sorrow more than anger, that our concerns have proved to be justified.”

The USPCA Chairperson moved to assure its members and the general public “that the charity has remained fully focussed on its core charitable objectives of preventing cruelty and relieving suffering in animals.” 

“We look forward to a positive future under new leadership, making a vital contribution to advancing animal welfare in Northern Ireland.”