A bank clerk who fled court moments before she was due to be sentenced for stealing almost £120,000 from customers is believed to have killed herself in a suicide pact with her husband.
Bindi Dhanji, 31, was facing up to six years in jail after admitting two counts of theft by an employee while working as a senior clerk at an HSBC branch in west London. She fled court before her sentencing began on Tuesday afternoon.
Yesterday at 6.40am, she was found with her husband hanging from a footbridge close to their home at the busy Staples Corner junction off the North Circular Road in north-west London. The pair have not been formally identified and police say their deaths are not being treated as suspicious.
Dhanji had admitted stealing £118,000 from two pensioners' accounts while working at the bank. In one case, she continued to withdraw cash for 10 months after the woman had died and took close to £60,000 before the account was suspended. She then stole a similar amount from a second customer in her eighties, after befriending her.
On Tuesday, she arrived at Southwark Crown Court with her husband and met with her legal team, but fled before her case was heard. Explaining her disappearance to the court, her lawyer, Richard Parry, said: "I think she clearly seems to have panicked."
He added: "She seemed to be, I thought, fairly stoical about the outcome. Her husband took a different view; he seemed to place too much reliance on the pre-sentence report."
Judge Anthony Pitts had issued a bench warrant for Dhanji's arrest and said: "It does seem like she has taken flight at first glance, I must confess from what you tell me. It is not unknown, but is still a slightly unusual situation, as she has been here a good part of the morning."
Appealing for her return before discovering she was dead, Detective Constable Malcolm Jolly, of City of London Police, said Dhanji abused a position of trust to steal from two elderly and vulnerable women. "Bindi Dhanji has admitted to committing a serious crime and now needs to face the judge and receive her punishment in full," he said.
Dhanji began taking money from her first victim in 2005 after hearing the victim had moved to France to be with her family because she was ill. The victim died in France in February 2008 but her family did not notify the bank until 10 months later, at which point the account was suspended, City of London Police said.
Dhanji was investigated in December 2008 when her superiors at HSBC learnt that the account of her first victim was still being used, even though she had died in February of that year. Relatives complained to the bank about Dhanji's refusal to give them access to the woman's statements and her employers identified irregularities in the savings of the second elderly client.
In May 2009, she confessed to stealing from both customers, but claimed a man she was not prepared to name had threatened her with violence unless she handed him cash. She said she targeted the pensioners because she thought their bank accounts would not be properly checked.
It is thought the clerk used the stolen money to buy designer clothes, pay for her wedding and put down an £80,000 deposit on a house in Watford, Hertfordshire.