Clerk stole thousands from parish councils to pay off debts

A clerk stole thousands of pounds from five parish councils in the Sleaford area after falling heavily into debt, Lincoln Crown Court was told on Friday.
Lincoln Crown CourtLincoln Crown Court
Lincoln Crown Court

Paul Adrian Illingworth, 64, of Old School, Church Lane, Scredington, feared his home would be repossessed after amassing debts of more than £50,000 and began stealing to try and stave off bailiffs.

Illingworth, a former Halifax Bank worker who worked as a part-time clerk for five parish councils transferred money electronically from council accounts into his own account and also made unauthoirsed cheque payments to himself.

He stole a total of £18,886 before an audit carried out in April this year by Pointon and Sempringham Parish Council revealed discrepancies and they contacted police.

Kevin Jones, prosecuting, said that the following month both Ropsley and Helpringham Parish Councils discovered money was missing.

They also contacted police and when Illingworth was interviewed he confessed to taking money from a total of five parish councils who had employed him as a part-time clerk.

Illingworth pleaded guilty to five charges of theft between June 1, 2015 and June 30 this year.

The largest amount stolen was £12,138 from Ropsley Parish Council.

Illingworth also stole £2,490 from Carlton Scroop Council; £2,130 from Helpringham; £1,926 from Pointon and Sempringham; and £201 from Old Somerby.

Sunil Khanna, in mitigation, told the court: “He is a man of previous good character whose offending started at the age of 60 as a result of difficulties in his personal and financial circumstances.”

Mr Khanna said that Illingworth worked his way up to become an assistant branch manager with the Halifax but when it changed from a building society to a bank he was transferred to a role selling financial services which he struggled to cope with.

Illingworth became depressed and his marriage got into difficulties before he eventually took early retirement on medical grounds.

“He went from a job earning £40,000 a year to an income of just £1,100 a month from his pension. He built up significant debts particularly credit cards and loans. He remortgaged his house and paid off all the debts but they built up again.

“It came to the position where he thought he would lose his home or the bailiffs would come in. He took the decision to take money. Once he had taken it once it became a way to stop the family losing their house.

“He is desperately ashamed of what he did.”

Mr Khanna said that Illingworth, who has sought help for mental health issues, is currently selling his home and plans to move away from the area. When the sale is completed he will repay the stolen money from the equity that is left in the property.

Illingworth was given an eight month jail sentence suspended for a year. A hearing to consider confiscation of his assets to repay the money he stole was adjourned to a later date.

Recorder Graham Huston told him: “In all the circumstances I am persuaded, exceptionally, that the inevitable custodial sentence can be suspended.”