Sub-postmaster who stole avoids jail

A SUB-POSTMASTER who admitted stealing more than £15,000 from a Suffolk post office spoke of his relief last night after he was spared an immediate jail term.

A SUB-POSTMASTER who admitted stealing more than £15,000 from a Suffolk post office spoke of his relief last night after he was spared an immediate jail term.

Kevin Howells, 40, used lottery takings to subsidise the shop he was running alongside the post office at Acton, near Sudbury, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

After hearing that Howells had no previous convictions and intended to repay the money he had stolen, Judge Neil McKittrick agreed to suspend a 12-month prison sentence for two years.

Last night, Howells told how he had got into difficulties running the post office - which he no longer has any involvement with - alongside the village shop.

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He said: "The last year or so has been so stressful and I am just glad that it is all over.

"I have to accept what I have done but my concern was for my wife and daughter. I changed my plea to guilty to avoid a custodial sentence.

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"I thoroughly enjoy what I do but from the start, juggling the post office and the shop proved too difficult. When we first took it over, I don't feel we were given a true picture of what it is like running a post office and how it had been performing. We committed ourselves to some very high outgoings from the start and it was very difficult.”

He added: "Since we lost the post office and just kept the shop, things have improved and the shop is doing much better. I would just like to thank the customers for their support throughout this ordeal."

Howells admitted stealing £15,657 from the Post Office between November 2005 and February 2006 and two offences of false accounting.

Sentencing him, Judge McKittrick said the offences had been committed while Howells was “out of his depth”.

He said the defendant claimed he had received inadequate training when he took over as postmaster and he had contacted a helpline to receive advice on running the business on a number of occasions.

Judge McKittrick said Howells had found the Post Office accounting procedures difficult and had been “floundering” while trying to keep his own business afloat.

He said if the defendant was sent to prison immediately his shop would inevitably cease trading and four members of staff would be out of work.

In addition to the suspended prison sentence Judge McKittrick ordered Howells, of Acton Stores, Acton, to carry out 250 hours unpaid work in the community and ordered him to pay £16,503 compensation to the Post Office.

He also ordered him to pay £14,000 prosecution costs and £4,810 towards his defence costs within 12 months.

Simon Spence, mitigating, said his client no longer ran the post office side of the business but his village shop was doing well and Howells would be in a position to pay compensation to the Post Office.

He handed in a number of character references to the court on Howells' behalf.

A Post Office spokesman said last night: “While we do not comment on individual cases Post Office Ltd has a zero tolerance approach to any financial irregularities.

“We apologise to customers in Acton for any break in service but are pleased that a new Post Office was opened last October.”

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