Bank manager escapes jail despite thefts
A FORMER bank manager has walked free from court after stealing more than £15,000 from customer's accounts – including his estranged wife.Geoffrey Howlett, who was a small business manager at a branch of Barclays Bank in Sudbury, was given a 15-month suspended jail sentence after admitting eight counts of theft dating back to October 1996.
By Danielle Nuttall
A FORMER bank manager has walked free from court after stealing more than £15,000 from customer's accounts – including his estranged wife.
Geoffrey Howlett, who was a small business manager at a branch of Barclays Bank in Sudbury, was given a 15-month suspended jail sentence after admitting eight counts of theft dating back to October 1996.
The offences, which amount to a total of £15,500, relate to cash transfers he made from customer accounts, including his estranged wife Christina, mother-in-law Edith Curry, and his wife's uncle to fund debts and his gambling addiction over a period of more than four years.
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He has also admitted a further 50 offences, which were taken into consideration.
Sentencing Howlett, 41, at Ipswich Crown Court yesterday, Judge Nicholas Beddard said the defendant had "richly" deserved to go to prison and it was only because of the "extreme vulnerability" of his new partner and children that he had not been sent to jail.
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"Your actions were the grossest breach of trust in respect of your employers and your wife and relations," he said.
"She (his estranged wife) and her relations were happy to trust you with their accounts. Their money is now gone forever."
The judge suspended the sentence for a period of two years, and said if Howlett re-offended during that time, he would face jail.
The court heard how Howlett, of Herbert Road, Clacton, had worked in banking for 23 years, 10 or 11 of which were spent at the Barclays branch in Sudbury.
Peter Fenn, mitigating, said in 1990, Howlett and his wife, who also worked for a branch of Barclays Bank at the time, had moved to a bigger property where they had obtained a larger mortgage.
Mr Fenn said after a while, Mrs Howlett left the bank and took up part time work, later leaving employment completely.
It was at this stage that their joint account became indebted and bills started to mount up, including the upkeep of his three horses, said Mr Fenn.
"Mr Howlett took out credit cards initially to cover the shortfall. He then took out loans to repay the credit cards. It turned into a vicious circle," he said.
"Mr Howlett started to gamble on the horses. He did occasionally win but more often than not he did not."
Mr Fenn said Howlett, who was declared bankrupt in February last year, had lost between £3,000 and £4,000 by gambling on the horses. His credit card and loans debts amounted to about £45,000, he added.
The barrister said as Howlett's debts rose, the temptation grew and he made a decision to "dip" into the accounts held by his wife at the bank.
When his wife discovered he had been stealing from her account, the marriage broke down, he added.
Howlett got a second job as a carer, working from 9pm until 7am and then starting work at the bank, but could not repay the lost money. Eventually, his estranged wife went to the police about the matter, it was said.
The court heard Howlett's new partner, whom he met while working as a carer and with whom he has recently had a child, suffered from medical problems.
At the height of his problems, the court heard Howlett had disappeared for a few days intending to take his own life, but returned because of his responsibility to his new partner and children.
Mr Fenn urged Judge Beddard to impose a suspended sentence, saying his wife, new child, and her two children depended on his support.
Speaking after the case yesterday, a spokesman for Barclays Bank said: "Although we cannot comment on individual cases, we take our security measures very seriously.
"Our customers can rest assured and be confident their money is safe when they bank with Barclays."
John McMillian, president of Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, was a customer who dealt with Howlett during his six years as business bank manager.
Commenting on the court case, he said: "I was very surprised and shocked when I heard the news.
"I knew Mr Howlett reasonably well and he seemed a perfectly ordinary kind of person."