Belfast Telegraph

Debt-hit ex-bank manager faces jail for stealing £434k

A former banker who fleeced her customers, colleagues and even family of hundreds of thousands of pounds has been warned she faces the prospect of being jailed next month.

The warning from Newry Crown Court Judge Kevin Finnegan came despite pleas from two Assembly Members, and the fact that 51-year-old Grace Harshaw has already handed back more than £200,000.

Adjourning sentence, Judge Finnegan said the former Ulster Bank manager turned music teacher from Annaghbane Road, Loughbrickland, should be under no illusion as to the sentence she knows “in her heart of hearts” the court may pass.

The court was told that Harshaw stole the cash to deal with a combination of growing family difficulties and financial problems with the family farm, brought about by her husband's mismanagement.

The hearing was told matters spiralled out of control when one week there was literally no money to pay for feed for the farm livestock.

The judge commented that while many in her local community may have expressed sympathy for her, he did not think that extended to some of her victims.

Judge Finnegan said that by next month, when the prosecution seeks a confiscation order against her, they should be in a position to provide a report as to the true financial situation.

This, he added, would have a bearing on the length of sentence the court may impose.

Earlier, prosecution lawyer Geraldine McCullough said it was “difficult to ascertain” the exact position, given that Harshaw had continually moved monies about various accounts in her Tandragee branch.

Ms McCullough also revealed that Harshaw had told authorities that besides duping customers, colleagues and even her own in-laws, she had also taken money from the elderly because she thought they would not miss it.

However, the court heard that in one of the 33 charges to which she pleaded guilty to earlier this year, it was said between February 2008 and October 2009 she stole £434,500, while the actual loss to the parent Royal Bank of Scotland was an estimated £287,000.

UUP MLA John McCallister and SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley said, like their South Down constituents, they were initially “shocked”, but they appealed for clemency towards the woman.

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