There is no justification for theft at any time, but the worst type of theft surely must be by people who are put in a position of trust.

Unfortunately there are often stories of individuals who have been tasked with handling money, either for a company or a person, and the temptation has been too much and they have helped themselves to the cash.

This week we had the sentencing of former Napier lawyer Gerald George McKay, 74, to four-and-a-half years in prison after he was found guilty in February of charges of theft, dishonestly using documents for pecuniary advantage and criminal abuse of trust. McKay, who had been a pillar of the local legal community, was found to have stolen $566,900 from family trust funds and estates without his clients' authority, between 2005 and 2010.

The charge that really stands out was the representative one of criminal abuse of trust, because it goes to the heart of the matter.

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When McKay was found guilty, the judge called it a "flagrant abuse of trust" and the New Zealand Law Society said it was vital that "clients are able to have the utmost trust in their legal advisers".

"When that is breached, the lawyer also lets down the whole legal profession."

This is the problem. There are many lawyers who do a fantastic job and are honest to a fault, but every once in a while there is a dishonest individual who comes along and does something like this.

The fact that McKay has not admitted his guilt or accepted any responsibility adds to the shame.

He could have been remembered as a respected member of the local legal profession, but his theft now means that he will spend time in jail where he can ponder his actions.