Banknote thieves told to repay pounds 1/2 m: Families' extravagant lifestyle ends with court order to give up ill-gotten gains. Ian MacKinnon reports

THREE families who stole banknotes due for destruction at a Bank of England incineration plant were yesterday ordered to repay more than pounds 500,000 by the High Court.

The couples, who led a 'life of Riley' way beyond their means, stole the money in pounds 20 and pounds 50 notes over a four-year period from the plant at Loughton, in Essex, where some of them worked.

One of the defendants, Christine Gibson, 44, described as the prime mover in the ingenious pounds 600,000 theft, left the depot with the notes stuffed in her bra and knickers.

All escaped criminal prosecution because witnesses who gave evidence in the High Court were not prepared to talk to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service was unable to prosecute on the basis of their extravagant lifestyle alone.

However, in an unusual move, the Bank of England cited their high living and sued for the return of the money with interest, seeking damages for breach of contract.

In a reserved judgment, Judge Norman Rudd, said that with regard to the families' explanation for their wealth, 'taken separately or together, the story is simply unbelievable', and held that they 'stole from the Bank of England'.

He also ordered the families, in addition to repaying their share of the stolen money, each to pay one- third of the costs of the case, unofficially estimated at pounds 250,000.

Mrs Gibson, of Loughton, Essex, and her husband Peter, 47, were ordered to return pounds 250,000. The judge also ruled Kenneth Longman, 34, and his wife Janet, should return pounds 150,000, and Michael Nairne, 39, and his wife Sharon, 36, all from Loughton, pounds 110,000. Judgment was stayed for 28 days pending appeal.

The court was told that the old notes were kept in cages with two padlocks, one black, one white. Mrs Gibson had the key for the black locks and someone else the white. But sometimes she was able to switch the white lock for another black one painted white which enabled her to open both locks. She and Mr Nairne would remove some cash while another employee, Kevin Winwright, who was jailed for a year after he admitted stealing pounds 170,000, distracted guards.

Between 1988 and 1992, the Gibsons allegedly spent pounds 317,000 more than they earned. Their extravagant lifestyle finally came to the attention of police when Mr Gibson went into the Ilford office of the Reliance Mutual Insurance Society and emptied pounds 100,000 in bundles of pounds 20 and pounds 50 notes from a carrier bag.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Nairne deposited another pounds 30,000, again in pounds 20 and pounds 50 notes, at the Reliance office. He claimed the cash had been found in a carrier bag behind a cooker at his late father's flat.

Anthony Boswood, QC, for the bank, told the court: 'There is an extraordinary Essex flavour about this case. These three families have been living the life of Riley, wildly above any conceivable legitimate means they could have earned.'

Yesterday, the judge agreed and rejected their explanations for their wealth as 'wholly incredible and totally unsupported' by the evidence.

A bank spokesman said: 'We are satisfied with the outcome of the case, but we are disappointed that it was necessary to bring it. Once the theft had occurred it was important that we recover the funds.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory