A MOTHER of two who stole nearly €25,000 from her estranged husband’s business account by forging his signature on a cheque book was given the benefit of the Probation Act at last week’s sitting of Castlebar Circuit Court.
Gwen Mitchell (50) with an address at Cloonon, Islandeady forged her husband’s signature on 13 cheques between March 2008 and October 2008 and took €24,550 from his business account. The money was later used to buy clothes and television and pay for a walking holiday in Slovenia.
Judge Thomas E O’Donnell was told that Mrs Mitchell and her husband Luke had separated in February 2008, and when she left the family home she took a number of documents including the chequebook. The first cheque was forged on March 18 when she lodged €1,200 into a joint bank account and over the next number of weeks she forged a total of 13 cheques, some of which were lodged into the joint account while a number of others were cashed and lodged into her personal account.
Mr Mitchell, a blocklayer by profession, only discovered the discrepancy in November 2008 when his accountant was preparing his tax returns. Mrs Mitchell returned the chequebook and left a letter apologising for the hurt caused.
Mr Mitchell did not make a formal complaint to gardaí until September 2010 and Mrs Mitchell admitted the offences when arrested by gardaí. During her interview with gardaí she described her role in the marriage as the ‘household financial administrator’ for her husband’s business and the household. She claimed that she had signed cheques for him when they were married and summarised the arrangement by telling gardaí that ‘he made it and I spent it’.
Ms Elizabeth Maguire, counsel for Mrs Mitchell said her client was extremely remorseful and that she was suffering from stress at the time because of the breakdown of the marriage. Mr Mitchell is a native of Breaffy and met Mrs Mitchell, who is a native of Dublin, in London and they have two teenage sons.
Ms Maguire said the issue of the cheques had been canvassed at the family law proceedings in the Circuit Court in November 2010 and had been taken into account in the judge’s ruling.
She asked the judge not to record a criminal conviction against Mrs Mitchell saying that she had already been humiliated by being brought to court and had suffered as a result.
In his ruling Judge O’Donnell told Mrs Mitchell that what she did was wrong and a criminal offence but also noted that the victim had not made a formal complaint until September 2010 and the matter had been canvassed and dealt with at the family law court.
He said that he considered that she had already paid a heavy price albeit through her own actions and decided not to record a conviction but to give her the benefit of the Probation Act.