By Fiona Ferguson
A “vulnerable” IKEA employee who stole €85,000 from the company while being “exploited” by people in her life has received a suspended sentence.
Lorraine Ralston, 47, worked as a manager in the customer service area of the store and part of her role was to issue customer refunds.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard she discovered she could create fictitious customers in the system and issue refunds, which she then took for herself.
Judge Martin Nolan was told that IKEA did not wish to complete a victim impact statement and that they wanted Ralston to be spared a jail term.
Ralston, with an address at Lymewood Woods, Northwood, Santry, pleaded guilty to theft of sums of cash from IKEA furniture store, Ballymun on dates between October 2011 and October 2012.
Judge Nolan said Ralston had a difficult family background, was under considerable pressure and preyed on by third parties. He noted she had spent the money on alcohol and drugs and that other parties had participated in what was purchased.
He noted in mitigation that she pleaded guilty, co-operated and made admissions, had a good work history and no prior convictions. He said she was unlikely to reoffend.
Judge Nolan said taking everything into account he did not believe she deserved a prison sentence and imposed a three-year sentence, which he suspended in full.
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Sergeant Alan Lynch said the thefts were uncovered when a security manager at the store noticed a suspicious transaction. A subsequent internal investigation uncovered 56 transactions between October 2011 and 2012 totalling €85,214.
Gardai were contacted and in the course of a search of Ralston’s accommodation €3,000 was recovered and has been offset against the amount taken, leaving €82,000 outstanding.
Sgt Lynch told the court that Ralston showed no signs of wealth and agreed that she was not “living the high life.” He said she was co-operative with gardai.
Her counsel said a psychiatric report before the court outlined that Ralston had befriended a man and began using alcohol and drugs with him that she was funding. He said what she thought was a friendship became more threatening.
He said Ralston came from a deprived background characterised by alcohol and physical abuse. He said in order to escape she went from “from the frying pan into the fire” and entered an abusive relationship.
He said she had limited formal education and had been “preyed on” by others in this case.