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Staffordshire council finance worker stole £20,000 of taxpayers' cash to pay off gambling debts

A council employee who stole more than £20,000 of taxpayers' cash within weeks of starting at the authority to pay off her gambling debts has been spared jail.

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Staffordshire County Council's Stafford HQ.

Jayna Patel, who now lives in Worcester, made 20 transactions from Staffordshire County Council worth £20,655 to accounts owned by her parents while employed as a senior finance administrator.

The 36-year-old started working at the authority in a temporary agency role on October 5, 2021, and transferred the money between November 3 and November 18 the same year.

Prosecutor Ms Suzanne Francis said the defendant had worked alone, with £14,540 being sent to her father and her mother receiving the other £6,115, with her account being described as a "simplified" one.

The barrister said Patel had worked alone with her parents uninvolved, and had withdrawn the cash "almost immediately", with her employment later terminated on November 30 following a period of sickness.

Wolverhampton Crown Court, sitting in the city's magistrates court, heard on Thursday how the defendant had taken the funds to pay off a number of pay-day loans, some having an APR of around 200 per cent, which were originally taken out to cover gambling debts.

Patel started gambling in 2006 whilst studying at the University of Liverpool, with her accommodation being situated next to a hotel. District Judge Ian Strongman heard she has been taking "positive steps" after the incident with Staffordshire County Council.

The defendant was "ashamed" she had brought her parents into and has since moved from Wolverhampton to Worcester and landed a non-financial role with the NHS, offering to pay back the money taken at a rate of £1,000 a month.

District Judge Strongman concluded the job was "taken at the time when she had significant debts because of gambling", and she took the position to take the money to pay off her debts.

After debating whether to impose a suspended sentence or a custodial sentence, he told the court: "For me, what clinches it was the offer to pay the money back. It's in the public interest the council gets its money back, if it all possible, so I will suspend the sentence but Ms Patel needs to understand it was a very close run thing."

Patel, who lives at The Great Western Hotel on Shrub Hill Road in Worcester, was handed a 16-month prison sentence suspended for two years after previously admitting one charge of fraud by abuse of position at Dudley Magistrates' Court on February 7..

She was also handed a rehabilitation order and ordered carry out 180 hours of unpaid work.

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