A DRUG addict who was helped by an office holder at a community group in Toomebridge later broke into the premises and stole £2,800 which he spent on crack cocaine, a court was told.
Stephen Paul McAleese (31), a former plasterer, of Ballydugennan Villas, pleaded guilty to burglary of TIDAL (Toomebridge Industrial Development Amenities and Leisure) in the run up to Christmas in 2020, and received an eight months prison sentence at Antrim Magistrates Court, sitting in Ballymena, on Tuesday.
He had bail in the sum of £500 fixed for appeal.
A prosecutor said the money was to be used by the group to "help the local community".
The court heard the office holder had lent McAleese money on a number of occasions and he "always paid it back".
The officer holder said after giving the defendant £30 on two occasions in August and October in 2020 McAleese became aware of the location of money.
The offices were then broken into and the money was taken.
McAleese's blood, Court News NI can report, was found at the scene.
When interviewed he initially denied the allegation, telling police: "I am skint. Look at me. Do I look like I have £2,800?"
Defence barrister Neil Moore said a victim impact statement highlighted "a very, very, disappointed lady who had helped this man".
The lawyer said he accepted the case was "aggravated by so many features" and had been a "gross breach on so many levels".
Mr Moore said the woman had helped McAleese over a number of years.
He said the defendant had misused drugs and alcohol for many years and and had on occasions been "sleeping on the streets".
Mr Moore said the woman had helped out McAleese during his "darkest times" and helped him get a Housing Executive property.
The lawyer said the defendant had a "pernicious drugs habit" and "it appears the entirely of this money went on crack cocaine".
He said McAleese had no recollection of the theft which happened during a "major drugs binge" but he now was "ashamed and disgusted".
The court heard the defendant is engaging with Community Addictions and received a 'blocker injection'.
Mr Moore added: "When sober and drug free he is a genuinely plesant young man".
The lawyer said McAleese has insisted that he wants to pay the stolen money back.
District Judge Nigel Broderick told the defendant the Victim Impact Statement showed how the woman had "literally took you off a park bench on a freezing February evening".
He said the woman had helped McAleese "sort out" his life by arranging things like medical appointments.
Jailing McAleese, who had 58 previous convictions, for eight months, Judge Broderick said: "I cant think of a worse case in terms of breach of trust and stealing money that was there to help the community in your local area".
The judge said he did not see any "prospect" of McAleese paying back the money and felt if he made an Order for him to do so he would most likely steal from others to raise the cash.
- Main picture: The TIDAL premises in Toomebridge. Picture: Google Maps.