Bank manager cleared of taking nearly £1m

A former junior bank manager walked free from court today after being cleared of stealing nearly £1 million from a high street bank.

Ania Wadsworth, 28, admitted taking the money but sobbed that she had been forced to do it by her crack addict boyfriend.

Wadsworth, of Archway, north London, was found not guilty of stealing £921,716.95 from Lloyds TSB between 2002 and 2007.

Keith "Junior" Preddie, 30, of Romford, Essex, was found guilty of laundering £145,370.

Preddie, who had a £500-a-day drug habit at times, said he also spent money on BMW cars, holidays and a failed music business.

The Old Bailey was told that Wadsworth would walk out of the branch at Golders Green, north London, with bundles of £25,000, stolen while she was loading cash machines.

But none of the missing money was traced to her and she had been living modestly.

Her bank accounts were frequently in the red and she had taken out a couple of loans from the bank.

An expert on domestic abuse said Wadsworth showed signs of battered woman syndrome and "learned helplessness".

She had been with Preddie, described as being from the wrong side of the tracks, since she was 16.

But he left her in 2004 when he fell in love with another woman.

Wadsworth told the court that at the end of the relationship she was forced to steal larger amounts to "pay him off".

She told the court that she lived in fear of violence from Preddie and believed he would kill her or her family if she did not bring cash home.

Christopher Sallon QC, defending, said Preddie had used her "like a cash cow".

Wadsworth said: "If I came home without it, I would get hurt. I would die. He would beat me up and if I didn't bring it, that would be an end of it.

"He told people I worked in the bank. He would say 'My baby is a supervisor in a bank'."

Wadsworth said she "felt a sense of relief" when she was arrested coming off a plane from Trinidad at Gatwick Airport in March 2007.

She was found out during a nationwide audit while she was on holiday and unable to cover-up.

Her new husband Damon Hoford and her parents had no idea about her double life.

Mortgage adviser Mr Hoford told police: "After I found out about the thefts by Ania, I was devastated but loved her and wanted to stand by her."

But she began to act out of character, coming home late and tipsy, after her arrest and they separated and later divorced.

Mr Hoford told the court they had always "gone 50-50" with the bills and holidays.

He said Wadsworth had few material possessions when she moved into his flat.

Mr Hoford, who worked at the same branch, said they started going out together when the relationship with Preddie ended.

"She said if he came home drunk or if he used any drugs, he would just be rough with her," Mr Hoford said.

Mr Hoford married the "bubbly, extrovert and easy to get on with" junior manager in November 2004.

Detective Sergeant Suzanne Ferris of City of London Police said outside court: "We found no evidence in her finances to show she had any gain."

Preddie and Wadsworth both collapsed in floods of tears in the dock as the verdicts were announced from the five woman and six man jury.

Wadsworth was discharged while Preddie was remanded in custody until March 5, for pre-sentence reports.

Preddie had made little attempt to hide the money he got from Wadsworth, putting £145,370 of it into his bank accounts.

This he used to buy a couple of BMW cars - one of which was firebombed.

He also bought a motorcycle, leather clothes and gold jewellery. He replaced his bathroom and kitchen.

Preddie smoked crack cocaine with tobacco in roll-ups and Wadsworth said he sometimes consumed £500-worth a day.

Preddie, who said he gave up crack four years ago, also went on lavish holidays to Australia, New York, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

At least £20,000 went on setting up a music business which failed, he said.

But in contrast, Wadsworth said she wore second-hand clothes and drove an old Renault Clio her father bought for her.

Her bank account was constantly in the red and she had borrowed two lots of £7,000 from the bank.

She left her parents' home and went to live with Preddie, described as being "from the other side of the tracks", soon after meeting him when she was 16.

After leaving his mother's flat, they moved into a high-rise council flat in Crouch End, north London, living next door to a drug dealer.

When Preddie served a four-and-a-half-month prison sentence for drugs and dishonesty in 2004, Wadsworth returned to her parents.

She had wanted to go to university after gaining ten GCSEs, but had gone to work in the bank instead.

But her high standing at the Golders Green branch resulted in her being given time off over four years to take a photographic degree.

It came in handy after she was forced to resign from Lloyds TSB after her arrest in 2007.

After working at a photographic gallery, she became manager of production and communications at the Sony World Photography Awards scheme.

But still there were no diamonds from Cartier or designer clothes from Bond Street.

She had married a fellow bank worker and police investigating the "colossal" theft were surprised to find them living in a small studio flat.

They had holidays in Venice and Trinidad but had gone halves on the costs and on household bills.

Wadsworth's only luxury appeared to be holidays but had stayed with an aunt in Cyprus and gone with friends on a short break to Rome.

The prosecution said that if there had been money squirreled away in foreign bank accounts, it would have "surfaced" over the last three years.

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