Clerk stole �30k from village funds

A PARISH council clerk and her son who stole �30,000 from village funds to pay off his spiralling debts have avoided going to prison.

Annie Davidson

A PARISH council clerk and her son who stole �30,000 from village funds to pay off his spiralling debts have avoided going to prison.

Angela Draper wrote more than 70 cheques over an 18-month period from Elmstead Market Parish Council's account which she then gave to her son, Owen Draper.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard yesterday that the 27-year-old cashed most of the cheques at The Money Shop although some were written directly to his landlord to cover his rent payments.

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The fraud was uncovered in February 2008 when two of the cheques - made out for �950 and �820 - bounced and The Money Shop contacted the parish council to inform them.

A police investigation followed during which the Drapers both admitted what they had done and Angela Draper left her post as parish council clerk. She was also dismissed as school secretary at a local primary school when the fraud came to light.

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At an earlier court hearing, Angela Draper, 54, pleaded guilty to nine counts of forgery and fraud and her son admitted nine counts of obtaining money by deception.

The charges related to �4,163.64 taken from Elmstead Market Parish Council between September 2006 and January 2008 but the pair asked for 63 other matters adding up to around �26,000 to be taken into consideration.

Yesterday, Judge David Turner QC sentenced them both to 12 months' imprisonment suspended for two years on each charge to run concurrently and 240 hours' of unpaid work in the community.

He was told that most of the money had been paid back using Angela Draper's husband's retirement payout and by remortgaging the family home in Old School Lane, Elmstead Market.

Claire Ashcroft, mitigating for Owen Draper, said he had always struggled to manage his finances and began to run up debts when he took a job with an information technology company and travelled for work.

As well as paying out for a lease car he also enjoyed nights in casinos or eating out with the debts “building up and up”, Ms Ashcroft said.

Later on some of his debts were being dealt with by bailiffs and Owen Draper again turned to his parents for financial help.

“He knew he should not be asking his parents for any more money but he didn't have anywhere else to turn and he had relied on them so much that in a way it was unfortunately the natural thing to do,” Ms Ashcroft added.

Peter Barlex, mitigating for Angela Draper, said the case had been “extremely stressful for her and her husband, resulting in arguments, sleepless nights, loss of friends, loss of work and loss of her good name”.

He said Draper, who sobbed during the hearing, had been put under emotional pressure to help her only child with his finances and she estimated she had handed over �150,000 over a period of years before she began taking the council funds.

Mr Barlex added that Owen Draper, of Queen Mary Avenue, Shrub End, Colchester, and his father had not spoken properly for two or three years.

Judge Turner told Owen Draper, who was visibly shaking in the dock, that he had led his mother “into temptation to commit a simply disgraceful course of criminal conduct - the consequences have, for both of you, been dire.”

He said the IT consultant had “pathetically allowed” his finances to get out of control and then in “a shameful and disgraceful way exploited the natural anxieties of (his) mother” to persuade her to bail him out.

He told Angela Draper: “I have read references from people who have held you in high regard over very many years, so that for someone of 54 with your sort of record should be standing today in the dock of a crown court is a great shame.

“It is a shameful day for you both and I am confident I will not see you again (in court).”

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