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Hotel fraud pair avoid prison over fake employee scam in Kyle of Lochalsh

By Ali Morrison

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Invereness Sheriff Court news.
Invereness Sheriff Court news.

Two crooked hotel executives who conspired to defraud the owner of thousands of pounds by paying a fake employee and steering money to a relative were spared a jail sentence.

At Inverness Sheriff Court, 45-year-old former Balmacara Hotel general manager James McEachern and his 53-year-old chef, Graham Smith appeared for sentence having previously admitted embezzlement and creating a fraudulent scheme.

The court was told that McEachern hired a teenage family member to work for 30 days at the hotel in Kyle of Lochalsh but paid him £8770.98 when he was only due £1980.

A total of £18,226.16 was also paid into a bank account under the fictitious name of David Smith when it was actually the account for Smith. who was recruited by the general manager in February 2019.

The pair then split the money between them, fiscal depute Emily Hood told Sheriff Sara Matheson.

Both men appeared personally with McEachern of Sealladh na Beinne, Fort William, admitting embezzling £6790.98p from the Spanish owner Victor Navarro between November 30, 2018 and October 29, 2019.

McEachern also pleaded guilty with Smith, of Cearnag, Chabar Feidh, Broadford, of creating a fraudulent scheme by inventing employee David Smith to induce Mr Navarro to pay them £18,226.16p between June 14, 2019 and December 10, 2019

Sentence was deferred for background reports and restriction of liberty order assessments.

McEachern's solicitor, Natalie Paterson urged Sheriff Matheson not to jail her client, saying an alternative of unpaid hours could be imposed.

"On the whole, the background report is positive and there is remorse. It is accepted this is a serious matter but he has no savings to repay the money although he is in full-time employment."

Smith's lawyer, Graham Mann also asked the sheriff to steer away from imprisoning his client, who now works as a taxi driver.

"He appreciates it was a terrible breach of trust but sees his role as a lesser one. His could be dealt with by unpaid hours."

Sheriff Matheson decided against a custodial sentence and instead sentenced McEachern to 270 hours of unpaid work and Smith to 225 hours. There was no compensation order.

At a previous hearing, Ms Hood gave the court the details of the crimes: "Mr Navarro noticed that the money being paid out at the hotel in salaries was higher than he expected, as such he requested a copy of the payroll and further information from the accounting company."

She added that another employee at the hotel, Juan Santos, met with Mr Navarro in Valencia at the end of October 2019 and Mr Santos confirmed who worked there and who didn't.

"During this meeting it was discovered that payments were being made to a fictitious employee who had never worked there."

Ms Hood added that Mr Santos was also able to confirm that the family relative had only worked there for 30 days.

McEachern and Smith were interviewed by police in November 2020 and they confessed to the financial offences.

View our fact sheet on court reporting here

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