Bank clerk who pocketed wages error walks free

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The Independent Online

Every month for almost a year, Lisa Moreton, a bank clerk, experienced a fantasy shared by many workers – she received thousands of pounds extra in her pay.

Because of a mix-up by her employer, the City bank ABN Amro, the 30-year-old began receiving about £5,000 a month intended for a wealthy colleague. Instead oftelling her employer of the mistake, Moreton, who has one child, opted to spend the money.

In the high-rolling world of international banking, her colleague – who shared her surname and initials – did not notice £55,000 of her earnings was missing. But when bonus time arrived 10 months after the mistake was first made, the bank did. An audit of the payroll uncovered the error and set in train a sequence of events that led to the clerk appearing before Southwark Crown Court, south London, yesterday charged with theft.

The court was told that the Dutch investment bank sent two letters to Moreton pointing out the problem and asking for it to be rectified. Both letters promised to take no action provided the money was repaid.

By that time, however, Moreton had left the bank and moved home, so did not receive the letters.

Her apparent failure to respond to the letters resulted in the financiers calling in the police. Officers duly arrested Moreton, of Clapham, south London, in April last year. She had spent every penny of the £55,000.

She admitted 10 counts of theft but avoided being sent to jail. Passing sentence, Judge George Bathurst-Norman told her she would normally have received a 21-month prison sentence but "exceptional circumstances" meant he could suspend the term for two years.

"Although you overall obtained £55,000 it was not, in one sense, of your own doing. You were not one of those who deliberately went out and put their hands in the till," the judge said.

"It was not a situation where you were actively milking your employers. Rather, you took advantage of a mistake made by them, and when they wrote to you about the mistake, some £55,000 having come your way in the meantime, unfortunately for you the letters never arrived and the result was the matter was put into the hands of the police."

Judge Bathurst-Norman said he was taking account of her guilty pleas, the fact that she had since managed to repay the money, and various matters raised in a psychiatric report. The court had been told Moreton was a "vulnerable" woman, spoilt as a child, jealous of her sisters, and had difficulty dealing with people in authority.