Robert Saunderson: Glenwherry Presbyterian Church treasurer who stole £125,000 avoids jail

A farmer who abused his position as church treasurer to swindle nearly £125,000 has avoided jail.

Robert Saunderson (67) was told that the decision not to put him behind bars “was borderline”.

Saunderson had previously pleaded guilty and has since repaid most of what he stole.

Antrim Crown Court was told he had also alerted the authorities to the £6,000 he had ‘discovered’ himself.

Just over a week ago, he was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for three years.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone identifying extra money they stole and offering to pay it back,” a prosecution attorney told the court.

Saunderson was Treasurer of Glenwherry Presbyterian Church in County Antrim.

Alarm bells rang for the first time when the church carried out an audit of two accounts, revealing a discrepancy of more than £21,000.

“The church treasurer, Robert Saunderson, who had been the church treasurer for about 18 years, was approached and he advised that he had the missing funds in his safe but had lost the key,” the attorney said.

When no money showed up, Saunderson admitted he had spent some of the money but would pay it back.

“At this point Glenwherry Presbyterian Church accepted this and thought the matter was resolved.”

It then emerged that Saunderson had stolen a much larger sum of money.

He had written checks for himself and his wife “falsifying church records relating to oil payments, mission donations, and United Appeal funds.”

Saunderson was arrested, questioned and admitted that he had no record of what he stole.

The dairy farmer told detectives he needed the money to pay his personal bills and had planned to pay it back.

The court was also told that his wife had been questioned, but told police she had no idea her husband had taken money from the church and only found out that he took it. had done only after his second interview with the police. A defense lawyer acknowledged that the offenses represented a “monumental fall from grace”, but was told to “state publicly, in court, that he (Saunderson) expresses his deepest and most sincere apologies and remorse. sincere about his disgraceful conduct”.

He described how the offenses not only affected Saunderson, but also his entire family who “essentially, became social pariahs”.

“They live in a rural community where the church and church activists were central to their lives,” the attorney said.

“The meetings, the recreational activities, all of that is over and they feel it very much and they understand why people are so grossly annoyed.”

Urging the judge not to jail Saunderson, he added: ‘The life of work and the legacy his father left him will never be right again…his cattle, his flock of purebred sheep, they cannot be taken in charge but will be sold and sold very immediately and the farm will be removed.

The court heard that Saunderson had purchased a number of rental properties and land, but they turned out to be a “complete and utter financial disaster…an extra millstone around his neck” and that’s when he started taking money from the church.

Judge Neil Rafferty said it is clear that Saunderson “is ashamed and deeply regrets what he has done and the loss of his reputation within the church and the wider community”. He said Saunderson deserved credit for his advocacy, the fact that he returned the money and the way he alerted authorities to the extra money.

The judge told him: ‘The reality, Mr Saunderson, is that at 67 you have lost your reputation, lost the position you enjoyed in the community and you have to live knowing that you did it all by yourself -same. hand. You nearly escaped an immediate custodial sentence and again you have only yourself to blame for that.

Jerry B. Hatch