Glemsford parish clerk avoids prison after pleading guilty to fraud

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Latest breaking news from the Suffolk Free Press, suffolkfreepress.co.uk, @sfpsudbury on Twitter
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A Suffolk parish clerk who defrauded her own council has avoided being sent straight to prison.

Sara Turner, 51, had obtained £16,000 from Glemsford Parish Council by ordering excessive quantities of office supplies and then selling items on the internet.

Today (November 30) Ipswich Crown Court heard that Turner, of Summerfields in Sible Hedingham, had been trying to pay off £30,000 worth of debts incurred following the ending of her marriage.

Turner, who had changed her plea to guilty on a charge of fraud shortly before her trial was due to begin, was sentenced to 22 months imprisonment, suspended for two years.

Judge David Goodin, who said he had read a probation service report which detailed Turner’s health issues and depression, also told her she must complete 200 hours of unpaid community work.

Prosecuting, Charles Myatt said that between March 2009 and September 2011, Turner had repeatedly over-ordered office supplies, largely printer cartridges including some to fit machines not owned by the council.

She had then sold off cartridges using her own online Amazon account, said Mr Myatt.

At the time Turner, who was employed by the council as clerk in 1998, had been paid a £20,000 a year salary and £500 a month in expenses for using part of her home as an office.

When councillors investigated, they found that unauthorised purchases - some apparently designed to secure gifts for making bulk buys - had been made by Turner and that financial record keeping had been poor, said Mr Myatt.

In addition to printer cartridges, Turner had used her position to purchase batteries, padded envelopes and spent £495 on a new pair of glasses from Boots.

In addition cash payments for village hall bookings had not been recorded.

Mr Myatt said that despite £7,800 being spent on cartridges from one company alone, Turner should have restricted any purchases to the £500 limit above which she needed permission from members of the 12-strong council.

Turner, who had no previous convictions, had found herself in an “extremely difficult position” following the departure of her second husband which had left her with substantial debts of around £30,000, said Nicola Devas, defending.

Since then, Turner who had obtained a local £15,000 a year job and was living in a two bedroom flat, had managed to pay off a large part of what she owed and was anxious to pay back Glemsford Parish Council too, said Mrs Devas.

Sentencing her, Judge David Goodin told Turner said that Glemsford Parish Council had employed her to safeguard and run its affairs.

Judge Goodin said: “It was a sitting duck for your relentless dishonesty because so much trust was reposed in you.

“You were effectively the holder of the purse strings and you could do pretty much as you like and did. That is a serious situation.”

Turner, in addition to her suspended prison sentence and unpaid work, will be subject to a 9pm to 6am curfew at her home address for the next 10 weeks, said Judge Goodin.