Council worker stole £50k from Harrogate pensioner

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A “calculated and greedy” council worker who stole more than £50,000 in life savings from an elderly Harrogate man has been jailed for three and a half years.

Police say former Harrogate Council housing officer Lorraine Stennett, 49, pictured, used her position of trust to gain access to her 85-year-old victim’s savings accounts.

She was supposed to be helping the council tenant but instead set up fake online accounts in his name, transferring thousands of pounds which she spent on a laptop, shopping, and while on holiday in Lanzarote.

The mother-of-two had claimed the evidence against her, including CCTV footage of her withdrawing cash and shopping in her name, was “coincidental”, say police.

But she was convicted of five counts of false representation after a three-day trial at York Crown Court last week.

“Stennett, a woman who was employed to offer support and safeguard the interests of her victim, an 85-year-old vulnerable man with no family, chose to steal around £50,000 from him,” said investigating officer Det Con Nicky Wareham, from Harrogate Police. “The offences she committed against him were calculated and her greed even led her to set up online banking on his accounts so as she could move money around in order to use for her own gain.”

Police say Stennett, of Langcliffe near Settle, had abused her role as a council worker in Bilton to gain her victim’s trust and access his accounts.

Using a work computer, say police, she transferred money from his savings and Natwest accounts, as well as stealing from a Post Office account.

In total, they said, she stole £50,900 in cash withdrawals and online, spending money on supermarket shops and even accessing his accounts while on holiday abroad.

The offences took place between November 2012 and July last year, say police, when an investigation was launched after concerns were raised by the pensioner’s carers and others.

When questioned, Stennet tried to claim payments for utility bills had been with her victim’s consent, denying the other charges and insisting the thefts had nothing to do with her.

Other evidence - including CCTV footage of her withdrawing cash and a laptop bought in her name - was just “coincidence”, she had said.

Investigating officers, speaking to the Advertiser this week as Stennett was jailed, said they were pleased with the guilty verdict and the custodial sentence imposed.

“It will hopefully be a deterrent to those considering taking advantage of vulnerable people in the area,” said Det Con Wareham.

A spokesman for HBC, reassuring residents, said Stennett had been employed on a temporary contract through an agency and had undergone thorough CRB checks prior to her appointment.

“The allegations against her came to light after she had left the council’s employ,” a spokesman said. “On discovering what had happened, we immediately provided support for the tenant affected, and worked closely with the police in support of their investigation, which ultimately lead to Ms Stennett’s conviction.

“We take the welfare of our tenants extremely seriously, and we will do everything in our power to assist the courts in bringing anyone who commits a crime against them to justice.”

The victim is understood to have been compensated for his loss by the banks. A further compensation hearing has been scheduled for October to reclaim these funds from Stennett.