Bank manager who stole is jailed
A BANK manager who stole tens of thousands of pounds to taste the champagne lifestyle of his wealthy customers has been jailed for 15 months.Kevin Smith, from Suffolk, was so liked and respected by clients that his social calendar bulged with dinner dates and invitations for him and his wife to join them on expensive holidays abroad.
A BANK manager who stole tens of thousands of pounds to taste the champagne lifestyle of his wealthy customers has been jailed for 15 months.
Kevin Smith, from Suffolk, was so liked and respected by clients that his social calendar bulged with dinner dates and invitations for him and his wife to join them on expensive holidays abroad.
But their palatial homes and obvious wealth left him dazzled and dissatisfied.
The 50-year-old NatWest branch boss became eventually obsessed with mimicking their tastes and quickly racked up £120,000 debts on a "long list" of credit cards.
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But he could not keep up the repayments on his £42,000 salary and, after exhausting his overdraft limit, turned to crime, London's Blackfriars Crown Court was told.
For more than a year he secretly used cash from the bank's coffers to keep his creditors at bay.
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However, the mass of paperwork he had to falsify to conceal his £85,000 "betrayal of high trust' proved his undoing, and provided an "incriminating paper trail' for suspicious staff to follow.
But the day auditors turned up at his branch to confirm their fears, the looming disgrace became too much for Smith to bear.
Convinced death was the only way out, he drove off a bridge.
He not only survived but also bungled a further two suicide bids.
Smith, who lives in a double garaged detached house in Bramble Way, Leavenheath, admitted 16 counts of theft between December 2000 and January 2002.
He bowed his head in apparent shame as Judge Deva Pillay told him yesterday : "It goes without saying that your thefts represent a gross breach of trust, you occupying the position which you then did.'
But despite his previous "impeccable character', the extensive mitigation advanced on his behalf, the "sad reality' of his betrayal of a bank he had served for 33 years meant prison was inevitable.
"And it is with the greatest regret I have to say that the least sentence I can pass is one of 15 months imprisonment,' he said.
But the judge added that, had it not been for his plea of guilty and his determination to pay the money back, he would have been jailed for much longer.
Smith, grey-haired and looking dishevelled in a slightly crumpled suit and an open- necked shirt, was then led from the dock.
The court had heard how Smith joined NatWest when he was 17 and was quickly marked out as management material.
He rose rapidly through the ranks and in 1993 was appointed manager of the bank's prestigious Chelsea branch.
For the first few years all seemed well as he continued to impress his bosses and lay the groundwork for further promotion.
But the very respect he clearly enjoyed, and the widening social circle it attracted, combined with a deep-seated need to live up to the expectations of others, eventually proved a recipe for disaster.
Ami Feder, defending, said: "He should have known better. But, because he describes himself as a person who likes to please people, he borrowed and borrowed and borrowed.
"He says he made some wonderful friends, all very wealthy, who thought he must be on up to £80,000 a year.'
He told the court he was popular among clients and often socialised with them outside working hours.
Unfortunately, Smith was easily impressed by their wealth and soon found himself struggling to match the glittering lifestyle they enjoyed.
His spending gradually spiralled out of control as he found himself footing bills at expensive restaurants and splashing out on holidays beyond his budget. He used a string of credit cards to keep up the pretence and quickly exhausted his overdraft limit.
By Christmas 2000 he was siphoning money from his employers.
In March 2002 head office colleagues became suspicious over figures that refused to tally and followed the tell-tale paperwork straight to Smith.
However, he was unable to face the shame and tried to end it all by driving off a bridge into a river.
But his suicide bid failed when a passer-by leapt in to rescue him.
A drugs overdose and an attempt to gas himself in his car proved equally unsuccessful after his father-in-law raised the alarm on both occasions.
The court heard his arrest shocked both colleagues and clients alike, many of whom regarded him as a "close friend'.
He was finally dismissed last October and now lives on £72 a week incapacity benefit.
Pleading "exceptional circumstances', Mr Feder made an unsuccessful plea for his client to be given a "non custodial' punishment.
Pointing out that a psychiatrist had concluded that Smith had undoubtedly been "suffering emotional pressure' when he turned to crime and the fact that he remained suicidal, he added: "As for the effect on the bank, that has to be minimal.
"It doesn't excuse the offence, but it has to be seen against the background of a bank that makes a profit of over £7 billion.'