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Breach-of-trust thief ‘virtually let off’ at parish hall

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THE Attorney General is to be called in to review a case against a former shop manager who stole hundreds of pounds of food and goods from a store, after it emerged that the case was never referred to court.

HM Attorney General Robert MacRae QC. (25779915)

Instead, the former Sandpiper employee was dealt with at a parish hall inquiry – hearings reserved for only the most minor of offences.

Centeniers have powers to impose fines of up to £200 and sanctions handed down at parish halls are not classed as criminal convictions.

It is understood the ex-employee was caught on CCTV stealing up to £600 worth of food and goods on nine occasions, sources say.

Tony O’Neil, SandpiperCI chief executive, said: ‘This just reinforces the adage of the Jersey Way. What kind of message does this send?’

‘They were in a senior position of trust and we are looking for those people to set the right example. If the powers that be say if you abuse a position of trust you are just going to get a slap on the leg, what kind of message does that send?’ he added.

‘What kind of deterrent is that to the individual?

‘We will definitely be referring this case to the Attorney General.’

In a letter published on page 12 of Friday's JEP, Stephen Forrester, managing director of Marks and Spencer Jersey, where the incident took place, said the parish hall system ‘should not be used to cover up breach-of-trust crimes’.

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He added: ‘I have to question where is the justice in that particular case? What message does it send out to other hard-working colleagues who were expecting a custodial sentence for such a large breach of trust? And perhaps more importantly, because justice has not been seen to be done, the former employee remains anonymous to the community, meaning future employers have no idea of the offences committed.

‘Is it right that an honorary policeman can make the decision to virtually let someone off, particularly when our Magistrate’s Court regularly highlights that it will not tolerate breaches of trust and issues custodial sentences for such offences?’

Earlier this month the JEP reported on a former Co-op employee in Guernsey who was handed a 140-hour community service sentence after admitting stealing £3 worth of stamps. The community order was a direct alternative to five months in custody.

And on several occasions the Island’s Magistrate or Assistant Magistrate has warned of the severity of cases involving breaches of trust instilled by an employer.

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Last week, two brothers, who between them have a vast criminal history, were sentenced in the Magistrate’s Court to six and nine months’ probation respectively for stealing food and goods from shops valued at less than £100.

The Chef de Police for the parish where the offence took place said he was unaware of the case and would not be able to comment on it if he was. In general terms, the Centenier said: ‘The honorary police are not investigators. That is left to other agencies. Recommendations will be made on how a case should be dealt with but ultimately it is down to the Centenier and they can always change the decision from what is recommended.’

According to the Attorney General’s directive, the purpose of parish hall inquiries is to: decide if there is enough evidence to charge a suspect; if it is in the public interest to charge a suspect; and, if the suspect is charged, if the offences can be dealt with at parish hall level.

Parish hall inquiries are not public hearings and, while they are under way, the Centenier must be accompanied by another officer.

Attendees are entitled to legal representation.

Asked if by administrating justice in a private setting it risked the integrity of the whole system, Centenier Danny Scaife of St Helier, the head of the Comité des Chefs de Police, said it did not.

‘Yes there is scrutiny, not by the public but by the Attorney General. If an attendee or a victim or someone has a concern about a case the matter can be referred to the Attorney General and he will review it. That does happen from time to time.’

Mr O’Neil added: ‘The fundamental principle is why is this case and others being dealt with behind closed doors? And why do the public not have the right to see justice being done?’

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
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