THE former treasurer of a Morpeth business group has admitted to stealing almost £20,000 from its funds.
Mark Trill said he set out with the best of intentions when he offered his financial know-how to the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade.
But things started to go wrong in his personal finances and then slid out of control when he dipped into the organisation’s accounts to keep himself afloat.
Last Friday, the 61-year-old former treasurer stood in the dock at Newcastle Crown Court to plead guilty to theft of £19,407.80 between April 2011 and March 2012. The loss of this money brought the chamber to the brink of insolvency and upset the businesspeople who had regarded him as a trustworthy friend.
Trill was declared bankrupt last July. The court heard he was a carer for his disabled wife and due to undergo surgery himself, but he was now determined to find work and pay back the stolen money.
He had originally intended to repay it before anyone realised it was missing.
Prosecutor Bridie Smurthwaite said that earlier this year, the annual accounts were overdue and he knew he could no longer make excuses for delaying them.
The worry and shame of what he had done were giving him sleepless nights and on March 28 he confessed to his wife before handing himself in to the police at Newcastle.
In addition to the 12-month custodial sentence, suspended for two years, he was ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work in the community and be electronically tagged for an 8pm to 6am curfew, except on Mondays, until April 30.
Judge Brian Forster QC told him: “You have betrayed the trust of those with whom you worked.”
But he added: “You have been hard-working and of course you come before the court in these circumstances because you had devoted yourself to this voluntary activity and you had previously been chairman of the chamber.”
He had taken the money from the group mainly by tricking its Chairman John Beynon – who had known him for 25 years and ‘trusted him implicitly’ into signing blank cheques that Trill would fill in for cash.
Miss Smurthwaite said Trill had told police he relied on the trust of his co-signatory Mr Beynon to acquire signed cheques.
Trill arranged for an £8,500 grant for work on the alleyway next to T&G Allan in Newgate Street to be paid into his wife’s bank account, from where it was transferred to his own. On five occasions, money was diverted from one chamber account into another he had opened and on one occasion he simply pocketed £500 cash from raffle ticket sales.
He had run up £18,000 in credit card debt ‘and kept hoping something would materialise, but it didn’t’. The couple lived at Newminster Abbey House in Morpeth and later moved to Crosby on Merseyside.
Miss Smurthwaite said he had told the police: “I have really broken everybody’s trust – everybody trusted me.”
This was not to fund a lavish way of life, his barrister Tony Cornberg said, but because ‘he was chasing his tail’ just to survive financially.
He said the family had previously lived in Carlisle, but had to leave very hurriedly and took a flat in Morpeth, overstretching themselves. Since his prosecution, there had been a rift with their daughter and grandchild.
Mr Cornberg said: “He said this morning, ‘It’s getting paid back, whether I’m ordered to or not’.”
Trill realised people might not believe that as he had no money now, ‘but there may come a time in the future when he receives an inheritance’.
The judge postponed a decision on repayment to monitor any progress.
He said: “The position looks dismal, but I will do what I can to try to protect those who have suffered as a result of your dishonesty.”
Until this had happened, Trill had a good record of work and service to the community – and he had confessed.
Mr Forster added: “Clearly the guilt was becoming an increasing burden upon you and you told your wife and then went to the police.”
Mr Beynon said in a victim impact statement: “This is the ultimate breach of trust.”
Chamber Secretary George Williams’s statement said: “He broke the trust of every member and did so in a definitive and calculated manner.”
The court heard that the Morpeth and District Chamber of Trade is a non-profit organisation which is devoted to working for the town’s businesses and improving the town centre.
It is funded by member subscriptions and events such as Morpeth Fair Day and Morpeth Golf Day. Money is also allocated to the town’s Christmas lights display and bids for the Northumbria and Britain in Bloom competitions.