Northern Ireland

Ex-soldier left luxury hotel without paying £1,600 bill

A former soldier who ran up a £1,600 bill at a luxury hotel and left without paying has received a three-month suspended jail sentence.

Stephen McIlwaine, 23, stayed in the Culloden, in County Down, for up to three days before disappearing.

He also filled up at petrol stations five times in under two months and drove off without paying.

McIlwaine, of Westland Road, Belfast, admitted the offences and intends to pay the money back, the court heard.

He stayed at the Culloden between 30 September and 3 October 2012, running up a bill of £1,592.80.

Around £250 worth of petrol was also taken from garages in the Belfast area between September and November.

His solicitor said he was genuinely remorseful for his actions.

She said that McIlwaine served in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan during a five year military career.

'Irresponsible'

After leaving the army he worked a driver for a period only to start suffering seizures believed to be epilepsy, the court heard.

His medical condition was said to have been the catalyst for "his life going wrong" and a spiral of offending.

In an attempt to explain the Culloden incident, the lawyer added that he had lent money to a military friend.

"He took the absolutely irresponsible decision to book himself into this hotel," she said. "He did run up a considerable bill, but he thought he was going to get this money back to settle the bill."

The court heard how McIlwaine's life hit "rock bottom" after quitting the forces.

"This young man, given his background of service to the country, pride wouldn't allow him to apply for benefits," the solicitor said.

"Over the Christmas period the British Legion had to help him out with food vouchers. That's how low he got."

Acknowledging McIlwaine's military contribution District Judge Fiona Bagnall imposed a three month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, for leaving the hotel without paying.

For each of the petrol station thefts he was given concurrent one month suspended terms. Judge Bagnall also ordered him to pay a total of £1,852 in compensation.

She said: "He's going to have to make inroads into that."