Former council clerk jailed for high life at taxpayers’ expense
A WHITEHILL woman who squandered £160,000 of stolen tax payers’ money on handbags, holidays and high living has been sent to prison for 14 months.
Judge Linda Sullivan told former Whitehill Town Council clerk Patricia Bell she would have faced a far longer term, but for the fact that she had admitted the fraud when confronted about the missing money.
Judge Sullivan said: “You were in a position of trust and spent this money on shopping and high living.”
Winchester Crown Court heard none of the money Bell took from Whitehill Town Council had been recovered.
Bell, of The Sands in Whitehill, was employed as the council clerk in May 2006, but less than a year later she was fiddling the accounts, said prosecuting barrister Tom Wright.
He said: “Bell was in a postion of trust, but she eroded checks and balances so she could defraud money.”
The 58-year-old was paid £46,000-a-year by the council, but still stole petty cash, altered cheques to her name, overpaid herself and took cash paid by allotment holders for their plots. But in 2012 it was noticed there was nowhere near as much in the council bank account as there should have been.
When Bell was confronted she admitted the fraud, and police charged her with theft of £220,000 by abuse of position, a sum later reduced.
Mr Wright said: “You may have heard a far higher amount was missing. But £160,000 is the agreed figure.”
He said during the five year fraud the council’s financial auditor, Alan Harland, began to suspect Bell.
Mr Wright said: “Bell managed to change Mr Harland’s contract so another auditor could be appointed. Bell then kept him at arm’s length.”
Defence barrister Anthony Rimmer said Bell had a shopping obession, had spent to the “max” with her credit cards, she was suffering stress, and she also took the money in part because her husband’s income had halved.
Judge Sullivan sentenced Bell to 28 months in prison, but suspended 14 months for two years. Bell faces being forced to sell her half of the family home to re-pay the council.
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