A disgraced former bank manager has been jailed for six months for stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds from customers and her own family.
Grace Harshaw (51) from Annaghbane Road, Loughbrickland, stole £434,500 from the bank's vault, customers' accounts and through fictitious loans between February 2008 and October 2009.
The ex-manager of the Ulster Bank in Tandragee has since repaid all but £57,000 of the money.
Newry Crown Court Judge Kevin Finnegan said that while the scam required sophisticated planning and a clear breach of her employer’s trust, she had lost her pension and her relationship with her children is now strained.
The court heard that the former bank manager turned music teacher stole the cash to deal with a combination of growing family difficulties and financial problems with the family farm.
An earlier court hearing was told matters spiralled out of control when the family could not afford to pay for feed for livestock.
In a previous hearing, prosecution lawyer Geraldine McCullough said it was “difficult to ascertain” the exact position of Harshaw’s finances as she had continually moved monies around various accounts in her Tandragee branch.
Ms McCullough also revealed that Harshaw had told authorities that as well as fleecing colleagues, customers and her in-laws — including her own brother-in-law — she had taken money from the elderly because she thought they would not miss it.
Yesterday, defence counsel read an excerpt of a report by consultant psychiatrist Dr Marion O’Kane, which described the feelings of ‘isolation’ and ‘hopelessness’ she had experienced since her family had withdrawn their support of her.
The court heard that while Harshaw was not ‘actively suicidal’, she had experienced depression and ‘suicidal intent’ — which was only allayed by her sense of duty to the memory of her late mother.
Defence counsel said the risk to her health would increase with a jail term. Judge Kevin Finnegan said Harshaw had carried out the scam to keep her husband’s farm afloat, not to fund a lavish lifestyle.
He said she was a “fundamentally good person”.
Referring to the money she had repaid, he added: “She can do no more, I accept that. There is not the slightest suspicion the money was for a lavish lifestyle,” he told Harshaw — who looked strained in the dock.
“There was a level of planning that went into this and a breach of trust with a previous employer. Your pension has gone. It has put strains on relationships with your children.”
He said that he hoped her work as a music teacher would provide her with an income when she was released from jail.
Grace Harshaw was convicted of a total of 33 charges.
This included 19 counts of concealing criminal property, seven counts of fraud by false representation, five of false accounting and one charge each of fraud by abuse of position and theft.
Her first offence was one of false representation, when 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.
One victim was Elizabeth Heak, who was told that £100,000 had been moved into a special Ulster Bank deposit account — which would then stay there. Harshaw had in fact removed the money for her own gain.
Another was Susan Hyde. Between July and October 2009, Grace Harshaw ‘invited’ Susan Hyde to invest £50,000 into a high interest scheme called ‘Money Desk’. No such scheme existed. The respected bank manager also told Susan Hyde she had taken a further £40,000 from her savings account and invested it in Money Desk.
Harshaw also took £150,000 from Robert Edmund Overend, which she claimed was channelled into the same scheme.
She also defaced, concealed or falsified banking records in the names of Mr Overend and Mrs Dolores Margaret Elizabeth Overend.
The disgraced bank official also defaced, concealed or falsified banking records of a personal loan account in the names of Christina McBride and David McBride.
Harshaw also on three occasions concealed criminal property using a fictitious personal loan in the name of Mrs McBride.
On September 11, 2009, Harshaw wrote to accountants acting for Dorothy McClelland to inform her that three cash withdrawals were bank errors.
Harshaw had in fact made these withdrawals herself for her own financial gain.