GANG­STERS forced a North­ern Ire­land woman to travel to Liver­pool from Belfast to laun­der their dirty cash af­ter she ran up drug debts.

Lisa John­ston was ar­rested at a HSBC bank in the Old Swan area of Liver­pool with a phone bill and per­sonal in­for­ma­tion from another woman with the same name.

A court heard yes­ter­day that in or­der to pay off her debts John­ston had been handed plane tick­ets and or­dered to try and ac­cess bank ac­counts be­long­ing to other women who shared her name.

The 28-year-old, from Dun­murry, was spared jail at Liver­pool Mag­is­trates Court yes­ter­day af­ter ad­mit­ting fraud and pos­sess­ing an ar­ti­cle for use in fraud.

District Judge An­drew Shaw said: “You have re­ally clar­i­fied that you be­came in­volved in so­phis­ti­cated and de­lib­er­ate of­fend­ing, so de­lib­er­ate you were com­ing from Belfast to Liver­pool for the pur­poses of be­com­ing in­volved with an at­tempted money laun­der­ing scheme.

“Drug deal­ers need peo­ple, prefer­ably peo­ple with no pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions, who can open ac­counts and le­git­imise il­le­gal money for them.”

Lionel Cope, pros­e­cut­ing, said John­ston at­tended the HSBC branch, in Prescot Road, on Jan­uary 18 armed with a util­ity bill and per­sonal de­tails re­lat­ing to a woman with the same name.

John­ston was at­tempt­ing to amend de­tails on the bank ac­count, but the clerk be­came sus­pi­cious when she no­ticed “dis­crep­an­cies” be­tween what the de­fen­dant said and the bank’s records.

Mr Cope said: “The staff mem­ber con­tacted the ac­count holder who con­firmed she was not present and she had given no one per­mis­sion to act as her proxy. The po­lice were called and found John­ston sat in the bank­ing hall.

“Ini­tially she re­fused to an­swer any ques­tions, but af­ter she was ar­rested and cau­tioned she con­firmed she was Lisa John­ston.

“When asked if she was the ac­count holder she then said: ‘No, some­one else.’”

The court heard John­ston had hand­writ­ten notes con­tain­ing per­sonal de­tails from the ac­count holder, but also re­lat­ing to Natwest and Bar­clays ac­counts linked to other women who shared her name.

The court heard there was no in­for­ma­tion as to how John­ston came to be in pos­ses­sion of the bill, a BT phone bill, dat­ing from De­cem­ber last year, as well as the vic­tim’s date of birth, ad­dress and maiden name.

Scott Phillips, de­fend­ing, said his client had been or­dered to travel to Liver­pool to pay off her drug debts and had been pro­vided with a “pack­age” of travel tick­ets.

He said: “Ms John­ston only had lim­ited knowl­edge of the over­all na­ture of what was go­ing on.”

Judge Shaw sen­tenced John­ston to eight months in prison, sus­pended for 12 months, and or­dered her to com­plete ac­tiv­i­ties with the Pro­ba­tion Ser­vice.

She was also or­dered to pay £85 pros­e­cu­tion costs and a £115 vic­tim sur­charge.

Lisa John­ston out­side court

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