It is the only bank left in the quiet Co Armagh town of Tandragee. Situated on Main Street, the Ulster Bank has been trusted by generations of local people to look after their savings.
The face of the bank for years was smartly-dressed Grace Harshaw, a church-going pillar of the community, who as manager was accorded all the traditional deference of that position.
But little did customers know that she hid a dark secret.
As her husband’s farm began to fail, she betrayed their trust by stealing their savings along with the bank’s money.
Between 2007 and 2010, the 51-year-old mother embarked on a scam which ensnared her employers, customers, colleagues and even her in-laws.
A prosecution solicitor told Newry Crown Court how Harshaw also targeted the elderly in the hope they would not miss their money.
Eight victims fell foul of the scam, which comprised a total of 33 offences and was described by Newry Crown Court judge Kevin Finnegan as displaying “sophisticated planning”.
The court heard that in one of the 33 charges — all of which were admitted — it was said that between February 2008 and October 2009 she stole a total of £434,500.
The money was stolen from the bank, customers and investors, and relatives.
Harshaw’s methods varied during her three-year scam.
At first she asked staff member Karin Hampton for her password to allow another colleague to log onto her computer. The bank manager then used Hampton’s password for her own financial benefit.
A list of the charges also detail how in 2009 Harshaw ‘invited’ Susan Hyde to invest £50,000 into a high interest scheme called ‘Money Desk’. No such scheme existed.
The well-liked bank manager also told Susan Hyde she had taken a further £40,000 from her savings account and invested it in Money Desk, while taking another £150,000 from Robert Edmund Overend, which she claimed was channelled into the same scheme.
Another customer, Dorothy McClelland, was also targeted. On September 11, 2009, Harshaw wrote to Ms McClelland’s accountants to inform her that three cash withdrawals were bank errors.
Harshaw had in fact made these withdrawals herself.
In court, politicians from both sides of the political divide had appealed for clemency for the former bank manager. UUP MLA John McCallister and SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley said, like their South Down constituents, they were initially “shocked”, but still made appeals on her behalf.
Yesterday, a number of Harshaw’s victims who spoke to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday did not want to relive their ordeal, or give their reaction to her sentence publicly. However, in Tandragee, just a few feet from the Ulster Bank branch which Harshaw once presided over, villagers were less shy about commenting.
The bank is right in the heart of the village’s quaint main street. A string of hardware and food shops line the frontage, interspersed with local churches and houses.
Tandragee, like most rural centres, is feeling the pinch of the economic slowdown. Trade was slow yesterday as villagers collected the last of their groceries. But they were all willing to talk about the disgraced bank manager who they said was once a well-liked and familiar figure in the village.
Douglas Cowan is a former customer of Harshaw’s. He said: “I’m surprised she did not get more. If she got off with that, anybody would get off with anything.
“It did not go down that well here when it came out, because everybody liked her. She was the last person you would have thought would be at that.”
Roy Hall (33) added: “I have seen people get more for less.”
Another woman who only gave her name as Mary said she was saddened when she heard of Harshaw’s secret scam.
The shopworker, whose workplace is on the other side of the street from the Ulster Bank branch, told the Belfast Telegraph: “My sister knew her. She said she was a lovely girl. I just think it’s very sad that she felt the need to do that. It’s ruined her life and her family’s lives.”
At Grace Harshaw’s family farm yesterday her husband Leonard was busy tending their herd of pigs. The couple continue to live in the Annaghbane Road home she shared with her husband.
Located 20 minutes away from Tandragee, on a windy, rural road in Loughbrickland, you could be forgiven for missing the inconspicuous bungalow, which is surrounded by stately old homes and newer, affluent developments.
Set on a hill, the tidy, grey building looks out on to a rolling lawn, which is fringed with well-tended bushes and shrubs. Two garages and a greenhouse back on to the house.
On the other side of the road, a cluster of three large pig houses look on to agricultural sheds, farming machinery and a horse and foal.
In an old jumper and jeans, which appeared to be his work clothes, Leonard Harshaw’s appearance was in contrast to that of his well-dressed wife.
He said he was relieved to hear the news that the case had been concluded.
“I’m glad it’s all over,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
Mr Harshaw, who did not accompany his wife to receive her sentence, said he had not spoken to her since she received her six-month jail term.
“It (the money) is paid back,” he said.
All but £57,000 has been repaid by Mrs Harshaw.
He added: “People have been asking about her. We have the support of the community.
“It’s something running now for three years. It’s hard.”
Asked if he had anything to say to his wife’s victims, he shook his head and said “No”.