Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Former USCPA boss avoids jail sentence

The former Chief Executive of the north’s leading animal charity has avoided a jail sentence after being found guilty of abusing his position to defraud the service.

Fifty-five year old Stephen Philpott, originally from Ashgrove Road, but now with an address of The Manse in Newry, appeared at Newry Crown Court on Monday last (14th Dec) where he was sentenced to nine months suspended for two years.

In September, as his trial was about to commence, Philpott entered a guilty plea to the charge of abusing his position by obtaining rental payments for a property in Bessbrook owned by the charity. The offences took place over a seven-year period between January 2007 and November 2014.

Wearing black rimmed glasses and a dark suit during Monday’s brief sentencing hearing, Philpott made no reaction as Judge Gordon Kerr QC issued the sentence. Judge Kerr outlined that Philpott had been a ‘high-profile leader’ with the charity and had been involved with the USPCA for 25 years.  He accepted Philpott had at times placed himself at risk in his role by opposing illegal animal sports such as badger baiting.

The court heard the rental income for the Bessbrook property was £400 per month and that the total amount unaccounted for over the seven year period was £40,000.

That sum has since been repaid to the charity.

Judge Kerr said Philpott had accepted “with a degree of reluctance” that his activity had been fraudulent and assessed him as at a “medium risk of reoffending”.

Outlining the main aggravating factors as the abuse of position and taking money from a charity, the judge added that the custodial threshold had been met.  Taking into account the former charity boss’s guilty plea, that restitution had been achieved, as well as the receipt of a number of good character references and medical evidence that Philpott was suffering from a serious condition not disclosed in court, Judge Kerr sentenced him to nine months in prison, suspended for two years.

Philpott thanked the judge after being told he could leave the court. He made no comment to waiting reporters outside.

Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Ian Wilson said, Philpott had “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.”

“Mr Philpott’s 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 of the USPCA 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.”

USPCA chairwoman Helen Wilson said the sentence “brings closure to a challenging period in the history of the USPCA, a respected and valued charity whose trust was ruthlessly abused by its most senior executive”.

Ms Wilson thanked all all those involved in the investigation and prosecution of the offences and said a debt of gratitude was owed to USPCA members “for their unwavering support.”

“Throughout this lengthy process, the board, staff and volunteers of the USPCA continued to fulfil the charity’s pledge to protect and relieve the suffering of animals.

“Far from being distracted by events, several initiatives that significantly enhance the range of our charitable services were introduced.

“I look forward confidently today, in the knowledge that the USPCA is in good shape, under new leadership and focused on its core purpose – the protection of all animals.”