A former Northern Bank worker who pilfered the dormant bank accounts of both deceased and vulnerable customers to buy clothes has narrowly escaped being sent to jail.
In a series of offences branded as "mean and despicable" by Judge Paul Ramsey QC, the total amount stolen by Linda Allison (51) from customer accounts over a two-year period amounted to £104,000.
After hearing that she made full admissions during police interviews, where she outlined exactly how she carried out the fraud, Judge Ramsey handed her an 18-month prison sentence, which he suspended for three years.
The judge said he was taking into account Allison's mental history as well as the impact a period of imprisonment would have on her young son.
Allison, a mother-of-three from Ormonde Crescent in Belfast, committed the offences over a period spanning from November 2007 to November 2009.
She admitted 68 separate counts of fraud by abuse of position. One of the charges related to the theft of £16,323, which was stolen from a client's account around Christmas 2007.
Crown prosecutor Tessa Kitson said Allison's offending came to light when an internal audit was carried out at another Belfast branch of the bank.
Revealing the dormant accounts belonged to customers who were either deceased, in poor health and needing full-time care or who had simply forgotten about their existence, the prosecutor said that money totalling £4,223 was withdrawn from them.
Further investigations revealed that the two accounts had been accessed by Allison. When this information came to light on November 13, 2009, Allison was questioned by bank officials. She denied accessing any funds from the two accounts but was immediately suspended.
When a more widespread internal audit was carried out, it emerged that she had used the same system – making a small lodgment in a dormant account before withdrawing funds from it – on 82 accounts across 26 Northern Bank branches in Northern Ireland.
Eilis MacDermott QC, representing Allison, said that her client had a history of mental health issues, including self-harming, which dates back to her teens.
Passing sentence, Judge Ramsey said offending of this nature usually warranted a custodial sentence, but spoke of Allison relinquishing her pension, her mental health and the impact imprisonment would have on her son.