Man admits stealing £170 worth of candles from Tesco

A man who was involved in a ‘dead dog’ scam to con a pensioner (79) out of cash has now admitted stealing £170 worth of candles from Tesco in Ballymena.

Friday, 11th June 2021, 9:50 am

Neil McDonald (42), formerly with an address at Drumtara in Ballymena but now in Bonds Hill in Derry/Londonderry, took the candles on March 28 last year. The candle case has been adjourned to July for a pre-sentence report.

McDonald had recently been jailed for eight months for the ‘dead dog’ scam but had appealed the sentence and it was replaced with 240 hours of Community Service. A previous court heard McDonald had pretended to be a policeman as he conned a pensioner two years ago. The defendant had admitted two counts of fraud by false representation by purporting to be a police officer in relation to October, 2019. Two theft charges accusing him of stealing cash worth a total of £440 from the victim were previously withdrawn by prosecutors. A prosecutor previously told Ballymena Magistrates Court a 79-year-old man was alone at home on October 10, 2019, when at 8.30pm a man wearing dark clothes and a “full-face motorbike helmet” called at the door. The man blamed the pensioner for knocking down “his partner’s dog and that it required an operation and it was going to cost £800 and he would have to pay half of it.” The court heard the pensioner was “confused” as he had not been out in his vehicle for a couple of days and was “uncertain if he had in fact knocked down a dog”. He allowed the man to inspect his car which had no damage but the man in the helmet continued to demand money and the pensioner then walked with the man to the nearby Phoenix Garage in Ballymena and withdrew £200 from a cash machine. The prosecutor said the man demanded more and the pensioner withdrew another £60 and then another £100 and handed it over. The pensioner walked home but an hour later the male returned, still wearing the helmet, and asked for more money and again the pensioner went to the same ATM and withdrew £100 and gave the man £80. The pensioner was then contacted by a female who claimed the dog had then died and she wanted a “loan” to buy another dog. A man then phoned saying he was calling about the dog and needed £220 to replace it and the money was to be taken to an address at Queen Street in Ballymena. The elderly man withdrew cash and took it to the address where a man he “did not recognise” took it from him. The total amount handed over was £660. The prosecutor said a couple of weeks later the pensioner answered the phone to a man who said he was a police constable investigating the death of the dog involving the the elderly man’s car and he was told he “would have to pay insurance or the case would go to court”. The man said he and another male would call out and at 6.45am two males were standing near his home and the pensioner recognised one as McDonald. McDonald told the pensioner they were there “for the money for the dog” but no cash was handed over as the elderly man’s son happened to be present at that stage. A defence barrister told the earlier court the only charges proceeded with against McDonald in relation to the ‘dead dog’ were that he “purported to be a police officer on the telephone”. The lawyer said there had been a “joint enterprise”. The defence lawyer accepted it was a “nasty” incident and the defendant wished to apologise. The barrister said it was “a despicable act to prey on someone who fears they may have been involved in an accident involving a pet animal”. He said “more sinister elements” had been involved and McDonald entered the scam “late in the day” and after being approached he was “convinced it would be a good idea for him to pretend to be a police officer” as he wanted money to buy drugs. The lawyer said “but for the Grace of God the gentleman’s son quickly cottoned on” what was happening.

A previous court heard McDonald’s home in Ballymena had been attacked. The lawyer said the defendant left the town and was off illegal drugs and was on a methadone programme and had made a “180 degree turn” in his life. At the recent court, District Judge Nigel Broderick jailed the defendant for five months for the fraud offences and activated a suspended sentence to hand down an eight months jail term. The judge said the fraud offence was “totally reprehensible”. At the earlier court the defendant then had bail fixed for appeal.

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