Stockbroker is jailed for swindling nuns' order

THE managing director of a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London was jailed for 18 months yesterday after he was found guilty of swindling more than pounds 70,000 from an order of nuns.

James Stewart, 51, siphoned off pounds 74,415.30p from accounts opened with his firm Cobbold Roach by the Roman Catholic order of the Sisters of Marie Auxiliatrice. The nuns, of Crosland Moor, Huddersfield, live on donations, take a vow of poverty, and help the young and homeless.

Two weeks ago, a jury at Knightsbridge Crown Court returned guilty verdicts on three counts of theft. Eight other counts of theft of almost pounds 500,000 were dropped during the trial.

The court heard that Stewart had defrauded clients to save his string of troubled companies from collapse, and to preserve his lavish lifestyle in a Surrey stockbroker belt. He withdrew money from clients' accounts and invested it dishonestly in his own company.

Stephen Batten QC, for the prosecution, told the court: 'He was a man of solid respectability who inspired trust in his clients. He had appearances to keep up and when he found he couldn't afford to keep them, rather than lose a little of what he had he took a big risk and ended up losing everything.'

The thefts were discovered when the National Westminster Bank took over Cobbold Roach in 1990 and found discrepancies in the company's accounts. The City of London Fraud Squad was called in, and Stewart, who then lived in Weybridge, was arrested.

Judge Brian Pollock said: 'You're unfit to be a director of a company . . . You are not to be involved in the running or formation of a company for four years.'