When a Forest of Dean postmistress and her family were told the business was losing money they thought they had become victims of the software glitch which affected sub-post masters across the country – but it was one of their own employees who was responsible, a court heard on Tuesday (November 22).
Aron Cleaver, 24, of Bayhead Villa, Lydbrook, had abused his trusted position to defraud Lydbrook Post Office of almost £23,000, Gloucester Crown Court was told.
Jack Barry, prosecuting, said the owners of the business, Alison Mills and her family, were informed in 2020 that they were running at a loss.
Mr Barry said: “They re-invested £8,000 to keep the business afloat while an investigation was carried out.”
“They initially thought that there may have been a software glitch, which had previously affected many sub-postmasters during the introduction of the Horizon software which saw many people being wrongly jailed for fraud.
“But despite this cash injection, the business still appeared to be losing money. Ms Mills then became suspicious of one of their employees having viewed the CCTV.”
Cleaver had first been employed at the shop five years ago to help with the running of the business and over time he was given more responsibility, the prosecutor said.
He began to deal with the money side of the business and was given formal centralized Post Office training to help run the facility.
Mr Barry added: “The CCTV made it clear that Cleaver was taking money from the business in a variety of ways. He would transfer funds into his own bank account; he would also assist his family members when they came into the shop by giving them items for free; he would also get XBox gaming credits and not pay for them.
“This offending took place when the shop was quiet, or when the owners were not around.”
The prosecutor said that the fraudulent offending was conducted over a period of time and amounted to £22,840.
“It was an abuse of trust,” Mr Barry said.
“Before these allegations surfaced, Chambers’ bank account had a balance of £20,500, but as soon as he had been rumbled, the available amount dropped to £6,686, he having spent £3,400 in Debenhams and £3,600 in John Lewis and numerous smaller amounts in a variety of outlets.”
Susan Cavender, defending, said: “Chambers suffers from a variety of mental health issues and severe anxiety. He is an extremely vulnerable person who has been living a hermit lifestyle since these allegations came to light.
“His pre-sentence report suggests that he is unlikely to re-offend. Chambers is at a loss to explain how and why he did what he did. It certainly happened and has admitted responsibility by pleading guilty and has never denied anything.
“I understand that the owners of the shop have been compensated by the Post Office and they are out of danger of immediate closure.
“Chambers states that most of the money in his bank account was made up of Universal Credit back payments.
“Chambers wants to rebuild his life. He is ashamed of what he has done and has become traumatized by the stigma of it. He has become isolated because he lives within the same village, he offended in.”
Chambers admitted 13 charges of fraud by abusing his employment as a cashier or a lottery cashier and failing to safeguard the financial interests of the business between August 2018 and July last year. In doing he made a financial gain for himself amounting to £22,840.
The Judge, Recorder Don Tait told Chambers: “You have not given the court any explanation as to why you undertook this fraudulent action. It is a significant amount of money over a substantial period of time.
“I’ve read the pre-sentence report and the psychiatric report on you, and it seems to me that nothing will be achieved by sending you to prison immediately.”
The judge sentenced Chambers to an eight-month prison term, suspended for two years and imposed a restraint order on his bank account, effectively freezing it. Chambers was informed that he would be facing Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings in due course.