£16,000 missing from Post Office: manager in court

Burnley Crown Court.
Burnley Crown Court.

A manager who repeatedly falsified figures to cover up £16,000 missing from a Burnley post office walked free from court.

Susan Ellis (48) did not steal the cash. But, she did not tell Harle Syke postmistress Lisa Beresford the figures weren’t balancing because she was embarrassed and instead of the shortfall being reported, it got bigger as the months went on. Ellis carried out the “sustained fraud” because she feared she would have to pay the cash back herself if the truth came out, Burnley Crown Court heard.

She’s had to repay the full amount to the Post Office and it has had a significant effect upon her personal life and her health in terms of stress and anxiety

Prosecutor

The hearing was told Miss Beresford ended up having to repay the Post Office the full amount and her health and personal life suffered as a result. Judge Ian Leeming (QC), who spared Ellis jail for the breach of trust, said the loss was real to Miss Beresford, who, he said, was a “ very real victim.”

Ellis, of Grey Heights View, Chorley, admitted false accounting, between the beginning of 2013 and March 2014. The defendant, who had no previous convictions, was given eight months in jail, suspended for a year, with 100 hours unpaid work. She was ordered to pay Miss Beresford £1,000 compensation.

David Traynor (prosecuting) said Ellis was, at the time, the manager at Harle Syke Post Office in Burnley. The postmistress was Lisa Beresford, who was a hands-off owner and relied on the defendant to run the branch. Ellis had held the position for 14 years and was clearly trusted by Miss Beresford.

On January 21st, 2014, Post Office auditors attended to carry out checks. There should have been about £44,500 in the post office in cash, but when the figures were totted up, there was actually £29,000. There was a total shortfall of £16,206 – £15,500 of it in cash and the rest in stock.

The prosecutor continued: “Initial enquiries were conducted by Miss Beresford herself in an employment disciplinary type context. In interview, the defendant accepted she knew money was missing and she falsified figures to cover it up. She denied taking any money herself.”

Mr Traynor said Ellis was questioned by the police in February 2014 and made no comment. In a later interview in July, she gave an account. She explained the figures in the store had to be balanced every so often. She said that when she was reconciling figures, if the cash shown to be in the store was more than was actually present, she would alter figures to show there was more cash in the store than there was. The prosecutor said Ellis said she first noticed discrepancies eight or nine months before the audit and at that stage, the amount involved was about £13,000.

He added: “Her motivation was that she thought she would have to pay the money back and she couldn’t afford to and that’s why she covered it up.”

The prosecutor referred to Miss Beresford’s victim impact statement and told the court: “She’s had to repay the full amount to the Post Office and it has had a significant effect upon her personal life and her health in terms of stress and anxiety.” The defendant had no previous convictions.

Philip Holden, in mitigation, said Ellis had got a job, earning £21,000 a year, had been promoted and was doing rather well. Her family of four was reliant on her income. He added: “I’m not for a moment saying this doesn’t pass the custody threshold.”

Sentencing, Judge Leeming told Ellis she had inserted false figures many times to cover the shortfall. He continued: “You were not falsifying the figures because you were stealing. You were falsifying them because there were items that were difficult or impossible to reconcile for bone fide reasons.”

The judge said the defendant didn’t gain personally from the offence. He added :” Because you would lose your job, because of the way it would affect your family, because of your remorse, I am satisfied it’s proper to suspend your sentence.”