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The Daily Mail | Posted 1st October 2013

Residents vote to abolish Town Council

Residents have voted in favour of scrapping a town council in South Yorkshire, after its town clerk was jailed for fraud and theft in 2013.

Janet Cooper was jailed for eight years for fraudulent activity, which forced Brierley Town Council to take out £1.3m in loans to deal with the financial implications of the crime.

A vote on the future of the council has now resulted in 983 residents saying it should be scrapped, with only 202 votes for keeping it.

The motion will now be considered by Barnsley Council on 30 July, who must decide if it will fund services currently paid for by the parish precept at a cost of £157,000 per year.

Cllr Sir Stephen Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, said: “Only Barnsley Council can take a decision on this issue but the people of Brierley and Grimethorpe have spoken. I’ll be taking a motion to full council on 30 July recommending that our officers work with Brierley Town Council to produce a report with a strategy, key actions and timetable for the abolition of the town council and civil parish. I expect that this will go to full council in September 2015.”

… and from the Mail Online
Town council clerk masterminded £1million scam then started using white stick to claim she was blind and had no memory of offences.

  • Janet Cooper spent the money on holidays and a box at West Ham
  • She claimed to be blind and had no memory when offending came to light
  • She has admitted fraudulently obtaining £700,000 and theft of £300,000
  • She has now been jailed for eight years at Sheffield Crown Court
  • The town council is now £1.3m in debt and has taken out emergency loan

A former town council clerk who masterminded a £1million scam from her office has been jailed for eight years.

Janet Cooper spent the money on Mediterranean cruises, holidays with her husband in Devon, a £21,000 car and a box for council staff for a match at West Ham United.

When the scale of her offending was uncovered she claimed to be blind and said she had no memory of events.

The convicted fraudster – once the subject of a Channel 4 documentary – also carried a white stick and wore black glasses.

After the hearing at Sheffield Crown Court, investigating officer Detective Sergeant Stuart Hall said: “There is no medical evidence to substantiate her blindness or memory loss.”

Cooper was clerk at Brierley Town Council, near Barnsley, for three years.

From the beginning of her time at the council she began pocketing a total of £295,000, which she siphoned off from £695,000 public works loans she dishonestly obtained.

She used the money to go on holiday, buy a new Volvo and offered £375,000 cash on a four-bedroom bungalow, as well as spending £3,500 for a box at West Ham for council staff to see Barnsley play.

She also claimed she was a Channel swimmer and collected sponsorship money.
Sentencing her today to eight years in jail Judge Peter Kelson called Cooper “pathologically dishonest”.

She had previously been jailed for 15 months at Basildon Crown Court in 1999 for theft and false accounting and again, in September, 2003 for three years at Leicester for stealing £800,000 from her then employer.

On her release she lied on her application form and got her £20,000-a-year job at Brierley Town Council.

Her crimes were only uncovered when she went into hospital for a brain tumour operation and a replacement finance officer began investigating.

Four council jobs had to be axed, services cut and 5,000 council taxpayers faced increased charges as a result of her offending.

The town council is now £1.3 million in debt and has had to take out a £480,000 emergency Government-sanctioned loan to pay recurring annual loan charges of £44,000.

It is estimated the current case has cost the state £100,000 in court costs, the police £75,000 to investigate and another £25,000 for the finance officer.

Cooper staged the fraud by forging councillors’ signatures on documents and falsifying the minutes of council meetings to apply for loans.

None of the councillors or other officials had any knowledge of her offending.
She changed her plea to guilty to four counts of fraud and one of theft on the second day of her trial after the prosecution opened the case.

The jury was discharged after returning formal guilty verdicts.

Her only defence was loss of memory but Ian Goldsack, prosecuting, told the court that a number of specialists had examined her and ‘there were doubts to say the least about the truthfulness of her medical condition’.

Cooper, 51, from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, admitted dishonestly abusing her position as council clerk by obtaining loans of £350,000, £152,500 and £66,000 from the Public Works Loan Board and a further loan of £127,000 without authority in 2008 and 2009.

She also admitted theft of £295,296 belonging to Brierley Town Council between November 1, 2006, when she first started and when her service effectively ended on December 31, 2009.

Cooper maintained they were grants but in fact they were loans, said Mr Goldsack, which had serious consequences for the council.

“It has meant significant cuts to services and people losing their jobs and an increase in taxes payable by the local community to try and cover the costs,” he said.

Cheques totaling nearly £300,000 were either drawn or transferred from the council’s bank accounts by Cooper in her own name or that of her husband.
She also falsified a large number of invoices, some from companies which had never traded with the council.

‘When the investigation was underway she has maintained that she has lost her eyesight and she has lost her memory,’ said Mr Goldsack.

Former Mayor of Brierley Patrick Doyle said in a statement that it had been a disaster for the council in a disadvantaged area. “Everyone in the community is a victim of this situation for at least the next 20 years,” he said.

Her barrister Andrew Smith said: “This is a lady with complex psychological and personality issues.”

Judge Kelson told her: “The dishonesty involved was persistent at a time when many in this country are thankful for a job. Your salary wasn’t enough for you and so you deceived your employers in a sophisticated and complex way.”

He went on: “But for your ill-health you would have taken more and more and more.”
Afterwards Det Sgt Hall said: “She would often try and ingratiate herself with other people and appear to be quite generous – but it wasn’t her money.

“There is nothing left in her bank account and there are no assets. It has all been frittered away. Barring the odd holiday or purchase she has not really led a champagne lifestyle.

“She has lied about everything and even her husband is another unwitting victim of the lifestyle she has fabricated.”