Health manager was jailed for Navy theft

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The Independent Online

A disgraced Wren who was jailed for stealing £11,000 from her ship and deserting with her married Navy lover is now a senior NHS manager.

Sylvia Panter, 39, a mental health planner responsible for long-term care of the elderly at North Surrey Primary Care Trust, is understood to be in charge of a multimillion-pound budget. But in 1994, as a petty officer on the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, she was court-martialled after she and her lover, fellow petty officer Ian Luff, stole £11,301 from the ship's safe and went on the run.

Panter was dismissed from the Royal Navy in 1994 after being found guilty of theft and desertion, and was jailed for 18 months, becoming the first Wren to be sent to a civilian jail.

She and Luff, her "sea daddy", or mentor, fled on the ship's launch while it was anchored off Corfu. Both were married to other people at the time.

Panter - who has since married the North Surrey Trust's chief executive, Nick Yeo - and Luff had been able to take the money from the safe because Panter worked in the wages department and had a key.

The couple, described as the "Bonnie and Clyde of Invincible", spent £2,170 on hotels, drink and clothes in Greece and Spain during their nine-day trip.

Panter and Luff, who had both been warned by senior officers about their relationship, made their way to Athens, where they sold their story to a tabloid newspaper. They then flew to Barcelona, Spain, and turned themselves in.

Panter claimed she had become distraught at having her shore leave cancelled for being late for duty. She said she had to get away from the ship, while Luff claimed he thought she was near suicidal.

North Surrey PCT said yesterday that it had been aware of Panter's background. It added: "Ms Panter's appointment to the PCT followed the standard NHS recruitment and selection procedure.

"Mr Yeo was not involved in the appointment process. Mr Yeo advised the PCT board of his marriage to Ms Panter."