Courtroom drama as Lee-on-the-Solent bar manager admits ‘drug debt’ excuse for £65,000 theft was pack of lies

Damien Bannon, 42, of Richmond Road, Lee-on-the-Solent, admitted stealing 65,391.82 from The Solent Social Club.'Picture: (140219-950)
Damien Bannon, 42, of Richmond Road, Lee-on-the-Solent, admitted stealing 65,391.82 from The Solent Social Club.'Picture: (140219-950)
Share this article

A COURT case took a dramatic turn when a bar manager suddenly ‘came clean’ after admitting his claim he stole over £65,000 to pay off his son’s drug debt was a pack of lies – catching his own barrister off-guard.

Damien Bannon, 42, of Richmond Road, Lee-on-the-Solent, admitted stealing £65,391.82 from The Solent Social Club’s accounts but made up a ‘fictional story’ that he took the funds to bail his son out.

But at Portsmouth Crown Court during a specially arranged hearing at the request of judge William Ashworth to hear Bannon give evidence on oath about the drug debt, the defendant caught everyone out when he confessed it was all a lie.

Bannon, it turned out, was a gambling addict, who would often spend hundreds of pounds a day laying bets. He earned £40,000 a year in his club secretary role, which also saw him work as a bar manager. 

Financial irregularities were uncovered in May last year at the club in Richmond Road, Lee-on-the-Solent.

With the case set for another adjournment, events unravelled when it was called back into court. Judge Ashworth agreed for the case to be put back later in the month before insisting that, at the very least, Bannon had to give his evidence there and then.

As a tearful Bannon gave evidence, he admitted it had been his idea to get his son to write a letter to back up his claims the money was owed as part of a drug debt.

He told the judge: ‘Everything was getting on top of me. Once everyone knew, I felt like I couldn’t backtrack, it all started snowballing. I had told so many people (about the drug debt) and felt like I couldn’t take it back.’

He added: ‘It was a stupid moment – I wasn’t in a good place. I felt like my life had collapsed. I had lost my marriage, was living on my own and had serious health problems. I wrote letters to my family to say goodbye to them all (after deciding to take his own life).’

When pressed by judge Ashworth, who had cast doubt on his story at a previous hearing , Bannon admitted it was a sham.

Asked who else knew the truth about ‘why he took the money’, Bannon replied: ‘Only my son.’

Following the ‘new information’ coming to light – vindicating judge Ashworth’s suspicions over the drug debt story – the judge asked defence barrister Daniel Reilly for his mitigation following the development. 

Mr Reilly said: ‘It is a pattern that shows a problem with him gambling £650 on one day and regularly hundreds of pounds a day. You can see how things could escalate.’

Summing up, judge Ashworth said Mr Reilly had been ‘thrown’ by Bannon’s revelation before stating the defendant’s bank statements backed up his gambling problem.

Referring to the misleading letter, judge Ashworth said: ‘I don’t know whether the son wrote the letter or not and I’m not in a position to check the handwriting to see if it matches. I just don’t believe Mr Bannon at all.’

He continued: ‘It’s impossible to see where his remorse lies. He’s not told anyone yet – they are still under the illusion of his fictional account. I’ve not found his evidence reliable. I’m finding it hard not to immediately lock Mr Bannon up.’

But the case was adjourned for a pre-sentence report. Bannon will find out his fate on Monday.