A TRUSTED accountant who paid a client's £15,000 tax cheque into his own account and then lied about what he had done has been given a suspended jail term.
A court heard yesterday that Elland man Christopher Tracey used the money, which was intended to pay a Halifax firm’s corporation tax, to clear his own £12,000 overdraft.
When the Inland Revenue contacted Mark Norcliffe, of Forest Green Design, to query his non-payment, Tracey told the complainant he had sorted it out.
But further inquiries by Mr Norcliffe revealed that the Revenue had never received the cheque and when it was examined it was found that Tracey had altered the payee so it could be put into his own account.
When later questioned by police, Tracey, 47, of Elland Road, suggested Mr Norcliffe had consented to the cheque being paid into his account.
Bradford Crown Court heard that since committing the fraud back in December 2009, Tracey had repaid the whole amount to Mr Norcliffe as well the penalty fees he incurred. Tracey had also paid back some of his accountancy fees.
Barrister Ken Green, for Tracey, said at the time of the fraud his client was trying to cope with the breakdown of his marriage and financial difficulties.
Judge Peter Benson was told that Tracey was also clinically depressed and Mr Green said he had suffered a breakdown in March last year.
Mr Green said Tracey’s explanations during his police interviews were indicative of a man who was not thinking straight.
The judge was handed testimonials from Tracey’s family and other clients, but Mr Green said his accountancy business had now collapsed.
“Of course his professional status is now lost,” conceded Mr Green.
Judge Benson said he was just persuaded to suspend a nine-month prison sentence for two years.
But he said Tracey would also have to do 200 hours’ unpaid work for the community.
“You pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to this offence of fraud, which arose out of your dealings with a small firm who entrusted you to deal honestly with their accountancy matters including paying over monies to the taxman,” the judge told Tracey.
He said Tracey had used the money to defray his own considerable overdraft and had then lied to cover it up.
“You were interviewed about the matter in March 2011 and said that you had done what you did with the connivance or approval of Mr Norcliffe, which was another lie in which you blamed an innocent party, ” said Judge Benson.
“That seems to me to aggravate this obvious and serious breach of trust.”
But the judge added that the fact that the money had been repaid was a powerful factor in enabling him to suspend the prison term.