'Trusted' accountant fraudulently stole almost £90,000 from Harrogate's leading bus company

A former finance chief at Harrogate's leading bus company defrauded the firm out of almost £90,000 and spent the money on designer and luxury goods.

Tuesday, 27th November 2018, 5:09 pm
Updated Tuesday, 27th November 2018, 5:15 pm
Mark Christopher Suter, 44, of Copgrove, Harrogate.

Mark Suter, 44, from Harrogate, falsified invoices and cheques during his time as financial controller at Transdev Blazefield, the parent company of the Harrogate Bus Company, York Crown Court heard.

Such was Suter’s reputation as a top-grade accountant and trustworthy employee at the firm’s Harrogate branch on Broughton Way, that he never once came under suspicion during his five-year scam which had cost the company tens of thousands of pounds, said prosecutor Jeremy Barton.

Between July 2012 and March 2017, Suter defrauded the company out of just over £88,000 and spent the money on Argos gift vouchers, a £4,800 Rolex watch, Apple products and car tyres that he claimed were a “legitimate business expense”.

He also deposited £9,000 into his own pension fund and splurged on gardening equipment and fuel for his own vehicle.

When Suter resigned from his £49,000-a-year job in March 2017 after eight years at the firm, his actions had still not been discovered.

He was finally arrested two months later when the firm’s financial director noted a number of invoice irregularities and launched an inquiry.

The investigation revealed that none of the £30,000 worth of invoices had been sent out by the company.

Suter had also forged signatures on company cheques worth about £60,000, which he paid into his own account.

“The defendant had been rather clever in being able to fool those who he worked for,” said Mr Barton. “He was trusted by those around him.”

Following his arrest, Suter told police that he was “resentful (about) his role (in the company) and felt under-appreciated and underpaid”.

He claimed that others were given “perks and benefits” which had been denied to him, so he “went about getting them himself”.

Suter, of Copgrove, Harrogate, initially pleaded his innocence but later owned up to the huge fraud, blaming it on financial pressures.

He admitted eight counts of fraud and appeared for sentence on Monday.

The court heard that the transport company - which has a fleet of over 500 buses and runs services across North and West Yorkshire, including the flagship 36 route linking Harrogate with Ripon and Leeds - had been deeply affected by Suter’s crimes, which had led to innocent staff members and even directors coming under suspicion before his eventual arrest.

The father-of-two found new accountancy work after leaving Transdev but did not tell his new employer about his offences.

He was sacked about three weeks ago after a staff member at the bus firm contacted his new employer and told them about the court case.

Defence barrister Ayesha Smart claimed Suter had embarked on the fraud spree after taking out a large mortgage for a new family home in 2013.

She claimed he resigned from the company before he had been caught because of the impact it would have on his family and others.

Ms Smart said the “enormous financial strain” on his family had been compounded by his wife being made redundant from her own accountancy job when she was pregnant.

Suter, who had led a life free of criminal convictions and was “ashamed of his behaviour”, now faced having to sell his large family home.

However, Recorder Simon Myerson cast doubt on Suter’s excuse about financial hardship because he had embarked on the massive fraud a year before he took the mortgage out on his new home.

He said Suter had not spent the money on “necessities, but frivolities, luxury items that you did not need”.

The judge blasted Suter for his “betrayal” which had led to a “black cloud of suspicion” hanging over innocent staff members.

“This was an abuse of a position of power and trust and responsibility,” added Mr Myerson. Suter was given a two-year prison sentence, but this was suspended for 24 months because he had agreed to pay back “every penny”. He was also ordered to complete 300 hours’ unpaid work.

The judge postponed financial-confiscation proceedings and Suter will be back before the court early next year when a judge will decide how much he has to pay back.