A sub-postmistress was forced to hand over the bulk of her savings after discovering an employee had stolen thousands of pounds.
Deceived pensioner Maureen Tilbrook, 72, told the Bury Free Press this week she was ‘very upset’ by the actions of her employee and relative, Lynda Larke, in whom she had placed a great deal of trust.
While manager of Honington Camp Post Office, Larke stole more than £15,000 to help pay off mounting debts.
At Ipswich Crown Court on Monday, the 62-year-old, of The Firs, Bury St Edmunds, was given a 14-month prison term suspended for 12 months.
Judge Rupert Overbury said: “Small rural post offices have enough difficulty surviving in these times of recession without employees like you systematically stealing from them. That is exactly what you did. You had your own system for stealing monies over a considerable period of time, at least 18 months.”
Larke had pleaded guilty to three theft offences.
The court heard how the thefts were discovered by a colleague while Larke was on holiday last November.
After being alerted, Mrs Tilbrook checked bags awaiting return to Post Office Counters which had been found in the bottom of a filing cabinet instead of in the safe.
Lori Tucker, prosecuting, said the bags were supposed to be full of bank notes but actually contained rolled up cash bags with no money. A total of £9,740 was missing. Investigations also revealed that commissions from National Lottery ticket sales, totalling £4,232, had not been handed over.
The stolen money resulted in Mrs Tilbrook, who is Larke’s second cousin, having to reimburse the Post Office by writing a cheque for £10,968.
In mitigation, Declan Gallagher said Larke had expressed remorse.
“She puts it down to her indebtedness that had built up over about 10 years,” he said, adding that, at one stage, she had owed around £51,000 on credit cards.
He said the thefts had been out of character and that Larke had been ‘desperate’.
Larke was also given 12 months supervision and ordered to complete 240 hours’ unpaid work.
A hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act is due to take place in January to recoup as much as possible of what she stole.
After the hearing, Mrs Tilbrook thanked everyone who had helped her over the past year.
She said: “I was very upset about the whole procedure and the deceitful way it was done. I always promised my grandchildren I would help them when they went to university but lost a lot of my savings from monies stolen from the Post Office and me personally.”