Woman who stole £43,000 leaves court smiling
A TREASURER who stole £43,000 from a charity community association has escaped a jail sentence even though her actions left her colleagues devastated.
Gillian Whitehead was in a trusted post at Whitchurch Village Community Association when she wrote 67 cheques to herself over the space of three years.
And according to former colleagues her dishonesty has had a devastating effect on the charity which has been forced to push up its prices in a bid to try and recoup some of its losses.
Senior members of the charity have also criticised the fact Whitehead escaped a jail sentence.
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Bristol Crown Court heard the 49-year-old admitted the theft as long ago as June 2010 but the case was repeatedly delayed due to problems she had getting legal aid, as well as her ill health, the court was told.
Whitehead pleaded guilty to theft of £43,189.54 over a three-year period between April 2006 and July 2009.
The Recorder of Bristol Judge Neil Ford QC gave her a one-year prison sentence, suspended for two years. Whitehead escaped a spell behind bars as a result of her poor health.
Judge Ford told her: "This was a persistent and gross breach of trust. It has had consequences beyond simply financial loss."
The judge said factors including Whitehead's medical difficulties meant the case took an "inordinate time" to come to court, but she had paid back £11,000 and it was highly likely the group would recover the funds that were stolen.
He said: "That will cause great personal loss to you, your husband and your family but you are the author of your own misfortune."
Whitehead, who came to court in a wheelchair pushed by her husband, was ordered to be supervised for a year and undertake a specified activity requirement for up to ten days.
She refused to comment on the case as she left court.
Tim Thorne junior, who took over as association chairman after his father passed away, said the association had to charge people more to use its hall as a result of Whitehead's activities.
He added: "It is too lenient a sentence, to be fair. It has had a devastating effect and we are going to bear the brunt of it.
"It is not just the money she took, it is the interest too. We are a charity and that money could have been spent on improvements."
Lucille Ademante, association vice chairman, was also upset by the leniency of the sentence.
She said: "She was called to court a number of times and she never turned up. The delay was her fault. It was only by luck and a bit of stealth we found out. We had no paper trail. We are not sure if £43,000 is the total amount."
Richard Posner, prosecuting, said discrepancies were only found after the association realised accounts showed suspiciously high utility bills and suspiciously low income from hiring out the hall.
Whitehead became ill and new treasurer Pat Dunsford uncovered the discrepancies when the association tried to get to grips with the association's finances.
Mr Posner said an investigation, which included the help of a bank, uncovered a history of Whitehead's criminal behaviour over three years.
He said she had used her ill-gotten gains to support her lifestyle, but had paid back £11,170.16 of what she stole.
A hearing in September will determine proceeds of crime and seek a confiscation of funds from her.
Giles Nelson, defending, said his client had suffered an accident at work and medical problems which impaired her physically and mentally.
He said his client offered little in the way of a full explanation for what she did, but it may have been linked to a breakdown in the wake of the death of her father as well as financial pressures on her from her son from a previous relationship.
The association hires out the community association hall to children's playgroups, dance groups and the local bowls club.