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Gambler who funded habit by pilfering from north-east charity hopes to repay the cash after avoiding prison

Aaron Ritchie.
Aaron Ritchie.

The co-founder of a men’s mental health support group who embezzled almost £10,000 from its accounts to fund his gambling habit has been spared jail.

Aaron Ritchie, 33, pilfered £9,792 from Men United’s funds over the course of eight months, leaving the Peterhead-based organisation with just £3.02 in its account.

He could have faced a prison sentence but yesterday was ordered to repay just under a third of that amount and carry out 300 hours unpaid work over the next three years as an alternative.

At Peterhead Sheriff Court, solicitor Iain Jane said: “Mr Ritchie does understand this is a very serious matter.

“It’s a clear breach of trust and an offence for which the starting point ordinarily is the imposition of a custodial sentence.

“I would seek to persuade the court that would not necessarily achieve a significant amount and would have a profound impact on others.”

The court heard Ritchie has had an “amicable separation” from his wife but he is now relied upon for childcare for their five-year-old son.

“He does not seek to have my justify his behaviour,” Mr Jane added. “He understands it is completely reprehensible and there’s no excuse for what he did.

“It has had a significant impact on him. It has led to the breakdown of his relationship with his wife, the loss of employment he had been offered and will impact his return to the employment market.

“It has led to public shame both in print media and social media and his character and reputation has been put through the mill.”

Ritchie set up Men United alongside Alexander Garvick in August 2019 but the former pilfered the cash while registering the group as a charity, after setting up a bank account which was linked to his own address.

The funds included £1,000 from the bereaved family of a man who had died after the group had offered its support.

Between October 2019 and June this year, Ritchie, of Peterhead, took a total of £9,792.78 from the charity.

Mr Jane said Ritchie had previously suffered from a drug addiction, taking cocaine in the past to “create a buzz”, and spent time in a rehabilitation facility.

He suggested that buzz had perhaps been replaced by gambling.

“It strikes me that a relief had overcome him when he was charged as he had an opportunity to face up to this difficulties and seek help,” Mr Jane added.

“There has been no further gambling since July 2020 but there is a risk of a return to previous risky behaviour in search of a buzz.

“It could be replaced by something more serious and I think supervision is required.”

Sheriff Christine McCrossan read character references from Gamblers Anonymous and a Men United user and heard of Ritchie’s desire to repay the stolen amount.

She said: “It’s a body that was set up for a very well-intended purpose that had money taken away from it.

“It’s been made very clear you appreciate what you have done.

“It’s difficult to make compensation to the people who have been affected by this in very personal circumstances and I also have to be pragmatic in what it is possible for you to repay given your future employment prospects are uncertain.”

She accepted a £55 payment Ritchie had saved in advance of his appearance and ordered him to carry out 300 hours unpaid work over the next three years, during which time he will be subject to a supervision order.

He must also repay £3,000 to Men United within two months of that three years period coming to an end.

Sandy Garvick of Men United said: “This sentencing draws a line under everything.

“My focus now is making sure Men United continues to provide support to those who need it and we carry on as a group.”

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