Gambling Addict Stole from Father to Fund His Habit

Addiction is an illness that tears families apart; it causes those affected to act in a manner that they would no doubt have abhorred before. Because addiction is an illness of the brain, the behaviour of those affected changes over time. In many instances, family members will say that their addicted loved one has completely transformed from the person that he or she once was.

It is not just drugs and alcohol that cause addiction, despite what many believe. People can actually become addicted to anything. If the thing to which they are addicted is having an adverse effect on their lives and the lives of those they love, then it has become a problem that needs to be addressed.

Desperate Act

Most addicts will hide their illness from their family and friends for as long as they can. They will begin to act secretively and can start doing things that are ‘out of character’. One of the easiest addictions to hide is a gambling addiction; it is often referred to as the secret or hidden addiction. This is because there are rarely any physical indications that a person has been gambling, unlike when an individual is abusing drugs or alcohol.

Martin O’Brien from Londonderry was a gambling addict who managed to keep his illness hidden from his family members. In doing so, he persuaded his two sisters and brother to give him power of attorney over the financial affairs of their father who had Alzheimer’s disease and who was being placed into care.

However, as soon as his father entered a nursing home, O’Brien began syphoning off money from his father’s credit union and post office accounts. Over the next three years, he stole almost £30,000, leaving less than £30 in the accounts when Mr O’Brien died in April 2013.

While O’Brien and his family were at their father’s bedside before he died, he confessed to one of his sisters that he had stolen the money. After the funeral of their father, police began an investigation and discovered that O’Brien had taken over £10,000 from one account, more than £13,000 from another, and £6,000 from the third.


As with all addicts, Martin O’Brien knew how to get what he needed. He was able to manipulate the system by taking invoices from the nursing home and taking them to one credit union where he was given a cheque to make the payment. After he had got a receipt for the payment of the invoice, he would take this to the other credit union and withdraw the invoice amount in cash, which he then kept.

When police questioned O’Brien about the missing money, he said that he had won money previously, which he had asked his father to keep for him. He explained that he thought his father would not remember this because of the dementia and felt the only way to get the money back was to take it.

Breach of Trust

Despite a psychologist report stating that O’Brien was a low risk for re-offending, the judge ruled that the crime was a breach of trust. He said, “This is quite clearly a serious breach of trust case in which the defendant’s siblings gave him full authority to deal with their father’s financial affairs and he quite clearly took advantage of his father’s inability to look after them himself.”

He was given a twelve-month sentence, with half to be served behind bars and the other half on licence.

Destructive Illness

Martin O’Brien resorted to criminal activity to fund his gambling habit; sadly, there are many more people who find themselves in the same position. When the urge to gamble takes over, those affected by addiction are powerless to control it. It is vital, therefore, that those with addiction get help as soon as possible. This destructive illness destroys relationships and can often cause irreparable damage.


  1. Belfast Telegraph