Sentence deferred on executive
A FORMER fishing executive who stole from his Lochaber employer was told the matter is ‘in his hands’ if he wants to avoid serious punishment.
John Hermse from Argus Lodge, Wards Road, Elgin, pleaded guilty to taking £1,116.09 which belonged to Mallaig and North West Fisherman’s Association (MNFWA).
The 59-year-old had previously pleaded not guilty to embezzling around £7,000 but admitted theft of the lesser amount at Fort William Sheriff Court on Monday (August 15).
The court heard Hermse was initially employed as MNFWA secretary on a part-time basis and that some time later his job title changed to chief executive.
As part of his employment, Hermse was given a company credit card to use for his own expenses, including travel costs to help carry out his day-to-day tasks.
The wrongdoing in question took place between April 29 2010 and October 5 2013 during which time Hermse used the company card to make two personal transactions.
Sheriff Sukhwinder Gill outlined to the court that one transaction amounted to £148.49 from Toolstation for tools including pliers and side cutters.
A second payment of £967.20 was for the renewal of a patent for prawn boxes which Fiscal Ross Carvel described as being ‘plainly not for the benefit of his [Hermse] work’.
During the hearing it was also explained Mr Hermse earned a salary of around £38,000 from MNFWA.
At the same time he worked for a scallop association, receiving a further £12,000.
Despite being labelled as a part-time role, Advocate Barry Smith told the court Hermse would often end up working 30 hours a week, including evenings and weekends.
He described Hermse’s role as onerous and extremely stressful. There was an administrative assistant on hand but otherwise Hermse ‘ was charged with running almost all aspects of the business’.
Mr Smith added: ‘ He further tells me he was given limited support by the association and at times was travelling up to 30,000 miles per annum.’
Mr Smith said Hermse had also had to deal with the misappropriation of £80,000 of association funds by a former chairman. He added: ‘It is helpful for the court to understand the somewhat lax or casual nature of the financial arrangements with the association. He tells me it would be usual for him to use his own funds for association matters and recover the funds at the end of the month.’
The court heard work pressures combined with the ill-health of his wife who suffered from epilepsy and deteriorating eye sight among other ailments began to take its toll on Hermse and around this time the couple moved to Moray.
Mr Smith went onto say Hermse is no longer employed by the association and that the theft had come to light during an audit fol- lowing complaints over his conduct. He added: ‘There were questions over Hermse’s continued ability to do the job and that meetings had been missed. There was an exchange of views and the employment ceased.’
A civil case regarding the termination of Hermse’s contract is ongoing and was referenced by Sheriff Gill in the difficulty she had in deciding how to resolve the case.
During her summary she told Hermse if the money is repaid there may be no further action or there could be a community payback order as a direct alternative to a fine or custodial sentence.
In deferring sentencing for three months to allow Hermse to pay back the money, she added: ‘I am leaving the matter in your hands.’