Disgraced town clerk admits fraud

Burnley Crown Court.
Burnley Crown Court.

A disgraced former clerk of Padiham Town Council, whose duties included looking after salaries, has admitted to fraudulently paying herself more than she was entitled while in the post.

Elizabeth Bolton (59) had initially denied two counts of fraud, but changed her plea to guilty when she appeared at Burnley Crown Court on Monday. Her solicitor husband was in court to support her.

During her time as clerk of the town council, Bolton was one of only two paid employees, the other post being a caretaker, and was responsible for the paying of salaries.

Mr Adam Watkins (prosecuting) told the court that Bolton had been appointed as clerk to the town council in 2002, but her fraudulent activity began in 2005 when her hours were increased to 22 hours per week.

He said: “Bolton was one of only two paid employees in what was a very small organisation. She was given a considerable degree of autonomy. She was responsible for arranging wages.

“Oddly, Bolton arranged for herself to be paid gross of £15,000 per year. To disguise this, as year end approached, she transferred money from one of the council’s charitable accounts into its main account.

“She would then reverse that payment by repaying the charitable fund from the main account. That left a net shortfall.”

Mr Watkins told the court that the shortfall was spotted during an audit.

He added that Bolton, of Palace Gardens, Padiham Road, Burnley, kept a personal log of overpayments from May, 2005, to early 2008.

In March, 2008, she made a repayment to make the accounts level, and made eight repayments in total.

By December, 2011, when she had been suspended pending an investigation, her own recorded figures showed a net overpayment to her of £8,997.

Mr Watkins told the court the official overpayment to her was £11,696.

He added: “She has subsequently made good the entire shortfall. It was a rather curious course of conduct.”

Her other responsibilities included ensuring that everything ran correctly and legally, chairing council meetings, looking after the town hall, which generates income for the council, and looking after the town council’s finances.

Mr Watkins went on to say that Bolton had one previous, unrelated conviction, from 13 years ago when she was given a suspended prison sentence. She had been forced to step down from her position as principal legal officer for Burnley Borough Council at that time.

Miss Katherine Pierpoint (defending) said that Bolton had “got into a mess”.

She said: “For the first two years, the end of year figures were equal. It was only in the latter period that it ran away from itself.

“Clearly there’s been a breach of trust. She was having difficulties at the time. Her husband is here in court to support her.

Releasing Bolton on unconditional bail, Judge Jonathan Gibson told her he was not ruling out custody and ordered an all-options pre-sentence report to be prepared.

She must appear at Preston Crown Court on Friday, September 5th, for sentencing.