Former Fermanagh playgroup director avoids prison

THE former director of a Fermanagh playgroup who admitted charges of fraud and abusing his position has avoided prison.

Martin Cox (41) from Hillcrest, Enniskillen was accused of seven offences comprising five counts each of fraud by false representation and single counts of theft and fraud by abuse of position.

He appeared before Dungannon Crown Court admitting one count of dishonesty transferring £12,790 from the accounts of Tiny Tots Cross Community Playgroup and abusing his position by using £7,838 of company funds for his own use.


The prosecution confirmed the remaining charges could be left on the court books.

Offending occurred between October 2018 and December 2022.

The court heard on 29 June 2023, police received a report from the chairperson of Tiny Tots Community Playgroup setting out how Cox as treasurer had been “misappropriating funds.”

She began to suspect he was defrauding the charity from October 2022 and requested an update from the accountants in order to make applications for funding.

It emerged a payment of £5,000 was made in July 2021 without the corresponding invoice.

On asking Cox what this related to, he initially claimed it was for contracting work at the playgroup before stating it was actually carried out at his business, Yolk Folk Eggs.

He claimed it was “accidentally” paid from the playgroup account and forwarded an email chain purporting to be between his employees to confirm this.


But the chairperson remained concerned and sought an audit of the charity’s accounts which showed several irregular transactions.

These comprised one for £5000 in November 2020, another £5000 in July 2021, £1240 in August 2021 and finally two payments of £750 in September 2022.

In addition, £7838 of petty cash collected from the playgroup by Cox was not deposited.

He had also failed to pay National Insurance and pension contributions.

The charity’s cash-flow was negatively affected and funding applications had to be withdrawn.

Police spoke to one of the Yolk Folk Eggs employees who purportedly sent the emails provided to the chairperson, who denied being the author adding she didn’t have access to the email account.

Cox was interviewed and admitted transferring cash from the playgroup to cover his business expenses and in some instances this was to his personal bank account.

He claimed his motivation was to, “Reduce the cash abatable to the playgroup in order to obtain grant aid.”

He admitted using the cash for his own bills including strimming work at his home and buying cattle for his farm.

Cox also admitted making fake invoices to create a paper trail as well as using defunct employee email addresses to fabricate correspondence to conceal his fraud.

He claimed the money would be circulated back to the playgroup savings account but then admitted he had paid none of it back until May 2023 on being asked to quit as treasurer.

Cox accepted acting dishonestly but did not think it was illegal or “a major thing”.

Judge Fiona Bagnall said the crime was aggravated by the creation of false invoices while seeking to wrongly place blame on employees and, “For nearly two years appropriated funds for his own advantage.”

She rejected Cox’s explanation of depleting funds to apply for grants, “Given how the proceeds were used for his own purposes.”

Judge Bagnall accepted however the funds were repaid in full and instead of imprisonment and ordered Cox to complete 240 hours Community Service.

On top of the repaid funds, he must also pay the playgroup £6170 compensation to cover losses incurred.

According to records the playgroup was incorporated as a company in May 2006 with Cox becoming a director in 2018 and resigning in 2022.

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