Grandmother gets suspended sentence for stealing £15,000 from sub-postmaster cousin

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A grandmother who stole more than £15,000 from her cousin’s sub post office has avoided being sent straight to prison.

Over an 18 month period, Lynda Larke, 62, systematically took cash from Honington Post Office, where she was the manager, to help pay off her mounting debts.

Today, Ipswich Crown Court heard how the thefts were discovered by a temporary member of staff, who was drafted in while Larke, of The Firs, Bury St Edmunds, was on holiday in November.

After being alerted, Maureen Tillbrook, 72, who owned the post office, checked bags awaiting return to Post Office Counters, which were supposed to be full of bank notes and had been found in the bottom of a filing cabinet instead of the safe.

Prosecuting, Lori Tucker said the bags actually contained rolled up cash bags rather than any money. It was established that £9,740 was missing.

Investigations revealed that commissions from National Lottery ticket sales totalling £1,220 had not been handed over to the current occupier of a convenience store at Honington, nor had £3,012 to his predecessor.

The court heard that missing money resulted in Mrs Tillbrook, who is Larke’s second cousin, having to write a cheque for £10,968 to reimburse the Post Office.

When interviewed by police, Larke made full admissions about what she had done and went on to plead guilty to three offences of theft, said Ms Tucker.

Defending, Declan Gallagher said it had been inevitable that Larke’s offending would be detected and she had expressed a high degree of remorse.

“She puts it down to her indebtedness that had built up over about 10 years,” said Mr Gallagher.

At one stage Larke had owed around £51,000 on credit cards and had been able to pay off only the monthly minimum, resulting in heavy interest charges.

The thefts had been out of character for Larke who had no previous convictions and who had been ‘desperate’, said Mr Gallagher.

Sentencing Larke to 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.”

Judge Overbury said Larke had been able to conceal her dishonesty by virtue of the high degree of trust placed in her.

“You were in the perfect position of trust in order to commit these offences” said Judge Overbury, adding: “You didn’t steal the money to furnish a lavish lifestyle. You didn’t have enough money to pay off your credit card debt. How it got up to £50,000 I can’t really understand.”

In addition to the suspended sentence, Larke was ordered to complete 240 hours unpaid work and to remain under Probation Service supervision for 12 months.

A further hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act is due to take place in January to recoup as much as possible of what Larke stole.