Former Hughenden Parish Council clerk found guilty of £28K fraud

Bucks Free Press: Lynne Turner Lynne Turner

A FORMER parish council clerk is facing a probable jail sentence after being found guilty of ten counts of fraud amounting to £28,200 whilst at Hughenden Parish Council.

A jury at Oxford Crown Court today unanimously found Lynne Turner, 50, of Tancred Road, High Wycombe, guilty of fraud by abuse of position after a trial which started on Monday.

The jury found her guilty of moving £28,200 in 31 different transactions between August 2010 and May 2011 from the parish council’s current account to the joint account she held with her husband. She told police her husband "wouldn't have a clue” about their finances, as she dealt with that side of things.

His Honour Judge Pringle QC said after the guilty verdict: “It seems to me that £28,000 in your position of trust over a period of nine months can almost certainly only result in an immediate custodial sentence.”

Turner resigned from Hughenden Parish Council last June after serving on the council for 17 years.

The court heard she was struggling with debt, and had taken short term loans from wonga.com and Pounds Till Payday.

She had a £380,000 mortgage on her home, £70,000 on a second charge on the property, and £20,000 in further debt, including credit cards.

It was when the new parish clerk, Charlotte Watts, started at Hughenden in September that she noticed payments had been made from the parish council accounts which she could not account for.

Whilst she was being trained to use the finance computer software system, RBS, which records the ingoing and outgoings of the parish council, Miss Watts and the RBS trainer noticed an amount of £21,900 marked as “cash in transit” for the previous tax year.

Miss Watts told the court when she rang and queried Turner about this she said it must be an error and to clear it. Then Miss Watts noticed there were six £1,000 payments made marked as correction.

Again she queried Turner who told her that she would like to come into the office to have a look at it, as she is more of a “visual person.”

Miss Watts then called the council’s bank, who gave her the account number to which the payments were made to.

She linked this to Turner’s bank account as her salary had also been paid into there so she then rang the police.

In total £28,200 was taken in 31 separate transactions, the court heard.

Turner was arrested on November 30 and questioned on three different occasions.

She told police she could not remember transferring the money.

She told the court she pleaded not guilty: “Because I didn’t knowingly do anything that would cause the money to be transferred.”

The court heard the money was transferred online from Hughenden Parish Council’s current account to the joint account she held with her husband, Paul Turner.

But she told police he did not know anything about it and he "wouldn't have a clue” about their finances as she was always the one to deal with that side of things.

In her evidence in court yesterday she tearfully said she ‘wasn’t in a good place’ in 2009/10.

She said she had to deal with a family rift at the end of 2008 and in the same year she had had a gall bladder operation, where she nearly died.

She also said she started losing her memory - her sister in law, who trained as a nurse suggested this could be due to the anaesthetic from the operation but Turner put it down to her age.

She said earlier her husband had changed his job from accountancy to gardening for one year and they had to sell two flats they owned.

Turner said she had to deal with a row in the village over Rural Affordable Housing between the former Hughenden Parish Council and members of the public, and had been personally criticised by comments posted online on the Bucks Free Press website, in village blogs and newsletters.

She also said she had to cope with a large number of emails from a councillor, Tony Konieczny, and a member of the public.

The council intervened at this point, the court heard, and Cllr Konieczny was investigated by Wycombe District Council’s standards board.

Turner, who admitted she was responsible for the accounts, also said she found it hard to get to grips with the new computer system, RBS.

Her mother died on April 15, 2011 and the night before she said she worked hard to put the parish council’s accounts in order for the end of the year report.

Turner told the court she had noticed the £21,900 payment on the RBS system in January and had put a call in with the bank, which had not got back to her.

When it came to presenting the accounts to Hughenden Parish Council finance committee in April 2011 she said she told them the situation regarding this money, and they left it with her to look into.

She said she resigned in June 2011 after the May elections where nine new councillors were elected and she did not feel she could work with them.

Prosecuting Gavin Holme questioned Turner on how she did not notice the payments going out of the council’s account before, when she seemed to reconcile the cheques and payments each month with her signature at the bottom.

He also asked her how she did not notice there were payments on her bank account marked Hughenden PACL, when he said looking at her bank account, she seemed to go into her account online regularly to pay out differing amounts to her son.

She said she did not notice.

He also said the payments from the parish council into her account stopped when a £12,000 inheritance was placed into her account, which he said seems more than a coincidence.

Former Hughenden Parish Councillors Peggy Ewart and John Rogers told the court they found Turner “trustworthy” during their time at the council.

Gavin Holme, when he was summing up, said: “Let me start by saying the crown doesn’t suggest in any way that this is the most sophisticated of fraud.”

But he said the councillors trusted her and she abused her position.

The jury was out for an hour and found Turner guilty on all 10 charges.

Sentencing has been adjourned until February 15, for a pre-sentence report which includes a psychiatric report that has already been undertaken.

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