Ex-Lloyds security boss Jessica Harper jailed for £2.5m fraud

 

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The Independent Online

A former head of online security at Lloyds Banking Group has been jailed for five years after defrauding the company of almost £2.5 million.

Jessica Harper, 50, whose £60,000-a-year role included fighting fraud, submitted 93 false and doctored invoices to pay herself £2,463,750, which she then gave to friends and her three brothers to allow them to buy property.

The fraud took place during the financial crisis when Lloyds received substantial amounts of taxpayers' money.

She stole the money over four years by creating a dummy bank account in the name of an IT firm which carried out work for Lloyds, even throwing it off the scent when directors questioned paperwork they received.

Southwark Crown Court heard that Harper told police she deserved the money for showing "loyalty" to the firm when she could earn four times as much elsewhere, but denied personally benefiting from the fraud.

She said she worked 60 hours a week for two years in two jobs, first as a senior manager for third-party suppliers and then additionally as interim head of fraud and security.

Judge Deborah Taylor told her: "You were a senior employee in the bank in a position with a high degree of trust at a time when Lloyds was substantially supported by a lot of taxpayers' money following difficulties sustained by the bank in the financial crisis.

"You disregarded your duties out of a sense of entitlement to take other people's money for your own benefit and that of your family."

Harper, of Crest Road, Croydon, south London, had previously pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud by abuse of position and a second charge of money laundering, both between December 28 2007 and December 21 last year.

Antony Swift, prosecuting, told the court that Harper made several payments to friends and family to buy property used for rental income and additional holiday income.

She admitted her crimes to police, telling them she deserved the money for working such long hours, getting up at 5.30am and getting home at around 8pm for a salary of between £60,000 and £70,000.

"I saw the opportunity and thought 'given the hours I work I deserve it'," she told officers.

"If I went to work for another company I would probably be earning four times as much."

But Mr Swift said: "The reality is that over four years she continued to work for the bank and fleeced them of £2,463,750.88p.

"She would not have been paid that kind of salary over that period by another bank."

She used a bank account set up in the name of software firm ISB Ltd but which was really her own, and doctored and made up invoices and emails to pay herself large sums.

She knew ISB's managing director, Simon Sutcliffe, socially and had helped the firm win work with Lloyds.

The court heard that she lied and told Mr Sutcliffe the problems over payment receipts had been resolved when he asked her to look into them.

The totally innocent firm was now facing the prospect of losing its work with the bank.

Harper's brothers, Simeon, Matthew and Gareth Tyrell, who all received money, all expressed "shock, upset and surprise" at what she did, saying they believed she had earned the money legitimately, the court heard.

They were helping police and the bank in selling their properties and returning the money.

Mr Swift said claims by Harper of giving some of the money to charity had not been substantiated, and she had a French bank account they had not yet been able to examine.

She has cashed in her pension and shares and sold her home in Croydon, he said, paying back £709,000 so far.

She has said she can repay £1.7 million of the money she took.

Carol Hawley, defending Harper, said her client had a solid work ethic all her adult life, with a long history of charity fundraising.

She was given character references including from Croydon Council and a local school.

She claimed not to have benefited personally from the scam.

"She was working under a huge amount of pressure and for a long period of time," Ms Hawley said.

"She describes that period of her life when work became all- consuming."

She added that Harper had also been suffering from increasing hearing loss and was now deaf in one ear.

The barrister added: "She still today struggles to explain the reason behind her behaviour."

But Judge Taylor replied: "She gave an explanation at the time to police that she felt entitled to the money she was given."

The judge rejected Harper's claims of stress caused by two jobs, saying: "These were roles in which you were expected to show the highest levels of probity."

She added that she believed Harper had benefited financially from the crimes, while having no thought for the reputation of IBS and its staff.

Harper was jailed for five years for fraud and four for money laundering, to be served concurrently. She will serve half before being released on licence.

The Metropolitan Police said it was actively seeking the return of more of Harper's assets, in a bid to recoup more of the outstanding money.

Detective Chief Inspector Robin Cross, from the Fraud Squad, said: "This case is an example of a serious abuse of position by a senior bank employee who should have been protecting the bank and its customers against fraud.

"Jessica Harper stole nearly £2.5 million from the bank over a number of years and, while she has repaid some of the money, we are actively seeking further assets for confiscation.

"This should serve as a warning to any bank employee that the Met will thoroughly investigate such frauds, which rarely remain undiscovered.

"Jessica Harper has destroyed her own reputation and the sentence reflects the seriousness of the offence."

Lloyds Banking Group, which includes Lloyds TSB, Halifax and Bank of Scotland, said today that no customers' money had been put at risk by Harper's actions.

"The fraud was identified following a regular review by the bank and we notified the police and the relevant authorities and assisted fully in their investigation," a spokesman said.

"Since we identified the fraud, we have changed a number of procedures to ensure a similar fraud cannot be committed again."

PA