Treasurer stole to pay off debts

A trusted treasurer and bookkeeper systematically stole more than �5,000 from a Norfolk children's charity and a community hall fund because of her mounting debt problems, a court heard.

A trusted treasurer and bookkeeper systematically stole more than �5,000 from a Norfolk children's charity and a community hall fund because of her mounting debt problems, a court heard yesterday.

Mother of three, Elizabeth Place, 49, worked as a bookkeeper and administrator for the Norfolk Early Years Support Network which offers help to nursery and preschool groups in the county.

Norwich Crown Court heard that Place forged the signatures of two of the trustees to cash cheques stealing a total of �3,439. She also stole �1,965 from the funds of the Aslacton and Great Moulton Coronation Hall, where she served as treasurer on the committee.

The court heard that Place, a single mother of Orchard Crescent, Great Moulton, had been struggling to provide for her family and pay her mortgage and was now facing repossession proceedings. She admitted 13 charges of theft involving a total of �5,395, and asked for eight other offences to be taken into consideration.

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Andrew Shaw, prosecuting, said that Place had worked as an administrator and bookkeeper for the Norfolk Early Years Support Network for almost 11 years. He said the thefts came to light when a VAT inspection took place in November 2007.

Place called in sick and 78p was found in the petty cash instead of �200. It was also discovered that 18 cheques had been falsely cashed dating back to June 2006. When questioned, Place said she had been depressed and confused at the time.

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It was also discovered that she had taken cash from the Aslacton and Great Moulton Coronation Hall where she had been treasurer for 16 years.

An investigation was launched following complaints and it was found that the current account was �4.18 overdrawn and the savings account had just �11.69 left in it.

After hearing about her difficulties, Judge Peter Jacobs jailed her for six months but suspended the sentence for one year. He also ordered her to do 200 hours unpaid work. He postponed a confiscation hearing which will investigate whether there is any money left to compensate the charity and the Coronation Hall for the funds they have had stolen.

Sentencing her, judge Peter Jacobs told her: 'You are a lady who otherwise has led a decent life.' However he said she 'succumbed to temptation.' He added: 'It was a gross breach of trust.'

Judge Jacobs heard that Place had now got another job and said he hoped it would be possible for her to be in a position to repay some of the money she had stolen.

Matthew McNiff said, in mitigation, that the offence had not been prompted by greed. He said her marriage had broken up in 1999 and she was trying to cope with bringing up her three children. He said it was an unsophisticated offence, and that for many years she had worked honestly for a modest wage.

He said Place had repossession proceedings started on her home but had now obtained another job.

Speaking after the case, Gillian Heaford, county co-ordinator of Norfolk Early Years Support Network, said Place had acted

deceitfully and betrayed their trust.

'She had worked for this organisation for 11 years and she was somebody that had been a member of the team, and that we had placed a lot of trust in. We feel that we were very badly let down by her. We didn't feel this was a cry for help or a spur of the moment action. It was deliberate and calculating, and extremely disappointing.'

Mrs Heaford added: 'It wasn't the amount of money involved that was the particular issue. It was more the way in which she went about the crime which was extremely deceitful when she knew people trusted her. When today is over, I hope we can draw a line under it.'

The Coronation Hall committee chairman could not be contacted for comment.

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