A senior finance manager with Wales’ biggest fire service stole more than £22,000 from a charity designed to support firefighters injured in the line of duty.
Over the course of almost four years Justyn Morris wrote himself dozens of cheques from the charity’s funds. He also raided the kitty of a fishing club run by firefighters, stealing another £1,000 in cash. The money went to fund the defendant’s legal bills following an “acrimonious” separation from his wife.
Swansea Crown Court heard Morris had worked for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue for some 18 years. Paul Hobson, prosecuting, said the defendant was employed as a exchequer services manager by the brigade and as part of his duties he oversaw payments to winners of a prize draw fund run by the service.
Mr Hobson said the proceeds from the fund went to support injured firefighters and their families with regular draws being held and prizes of between £100 and £2,000 given to winners.
Beginning in December 2013 Morris began making out cheques to himself and went on to cash 36 such cheques from charity coffers totalling £22,150 with the theft continuing up to the point he went on sick leave in September 2017.
The court heard that while he was off sick an audit revealed discrepancies in the charity’s accounts and an internal investigation was launched.
It then emerged Morris had also stolen £1,070 in cash which firefighters from the service’s fishing club had been putting aside to pay for a fishing trip.
Mr Hobson said the defendant was interviewed in June 2018 and made full admissions and the police were contacted.
However it was not until January 2019 that the defendant was interviewed by the police. The prosecutor said it seemed the force had decided to wait before questioning Morris because he had been dealing with the death of a close family member.
The court heard the bank that handled the fund for the firefighters charity, Barclays, has since reimbursed it for the money the defendant took.
Morris, aged 47, of Heol Treventy, Cefneithin, Cross Hands , Carmarthenshire , had previously pleaded guilty to two counts of theft by an employee when he appeared in the dock for sentencing on Thursday. The court heard he has no previous convictions.
Craig Jones, for Morris, said his client’s mental health had suffered a “traumatic and quite tragic” decline beginning in 2011 with the loss of his father and continuing with an “extremely acrimonious” separation from his wife and then the death of a close family member at a very young age.
He said his client had become involved in lengthy legal proceedings following the end of the marriage and, not being eligible for legal aid, he had run up legal bills “running into the thousands” on solicitors.
Mr Jones said the fire service was a “close-knit community” and the defendant was aware of the shame he had brought upon himself in the eyes of former colleagues.
The barrister said it was a mark of the shame Morris felt that he had not been able to bring himself to ask friends and others to write personal references for him to give to the court as most people in his position do.
He said the defendant had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was aware he had to “conquer his various demons” if he wants to move on with his life.
Judge Geraint Walters told Morris he had been in a position of trust in the fire service and had engaged in “systematic and routine theft” from his employers.
He said it “beggars belief” that a man of Morris’ age and with no previous convictions could bring himself to steal from a fund designed to support injured firefighters.
The judge told him he had not only lost his good name and his career but he had brought Mid and West Wales Fire Service into disrepute.
Giving the defendant a one-third discount for his guilty pleas he sentenced him to 10 months prison suspended for two years. He also ordered him to pay back in full the money he stole from the fishing club and to pay Barclays £10,000 compensation.
How sentences are decided:
Both these amounts have to be paid within eight weeks.