‘Walter Mitty’ jailed after conning veterans

Pic: Ian Rutherford
Pic: Ian Rutherford

A “Walter Mitty character” who started a charity to support wounded veterans – only to scam tens of thousands of pounds from it – has been jailed for 13 months

James Reilly launched the Tayforth Veterans Project in Dundee amid a blaze of publicity in 2011 – with TV star Lorraine Kelly doing the honours at the opening.

But just months later he began pocketing cash intended to help injured military personnel. Yesterday (Thursday) raging veterans and ex-trustees of the charity blasted Reilly and the sentence he was handed.

Reilly’s lawyer claimed in court that the crook had served in the Royal Navy as a bomb disposal diver for 17 years, adding: “His position is that as a bomb disposal man he has been through worse than this.”

But other veterans said his claims were “nonsense” – and said he had in fact served for a far shorter period as a stoker on HMS Eagle.

One veteran added: “He should have got five years. He has conned so many people.”

Reilly was a project manager and trustee of the charity – aimed at helping wounded ex-servicemen and their families – and entrusted with the safekeeping of money.

But fiscal depute Joanne Smith told Dundee Sheriff Court that evidence was found that Reilly had been making vast payments from the charity accounts into his own personal bank accounts and had had a trustee sign blank cheques for him to use.

Miss Smith said: “The charity had received £122,616 in donations and he had transferred £60,000 of that money to his own account.

“He blamed the state of the accounts on the former trustees and said they should have taken some responsibility despite the fact only he had access to the accounts.”

Reilly, (66), of Balmullo, had denied a single charge of embezzling £80,050 from the charity on indictment at Dundee Sheriff Court.

But he pleaded guilty on the morning of his trial to stealing the reduced amount of £60,000 between February 24, 2012 and October 29, 2013.

Defence solicitor Billy Boyle said: “It seems he had a habit of paying out of his own pocket and claiming it back. He’s brought a great deal of shame and remorse on himself. This has been cataclysmic for him.”

Passing sentence, Sheriff Alastair Brown told Reilly: “The sense of betrayal you have caused to your former comrades is clear to see simply by looking at the public benches.”

A group of veterans – some wearing their medals and berets – attended Dundee Sheriff Court to hear Reilly being sentenced for the offences.

Former marine Stuart Lavery, chairman of 45 Commando Veterans group, said: “He is a Walter Mitty character.

“He claims to have been in the Marines, to have served with the SBS (Special Boat Service) – but it isn’t true. We gave him thousands of pounds over the years. He always wanted it in cash – he would never take a cheque.”

Another outraged veteran said: “He’s been lying since day one. At one point he took thousands – even actively asking for money to be handed over – and used it to buy a BMW 7 series with personal number plates.”

Speaking at the opening of the charity in 2011, Reilly said: “Once people know what you’re trying to do, they’re only too happy to help and we’ve had a lot of people and companies helping out with goods and services as well.”