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The Daily Mail | Posted 7th October 2013

Council clerk stole £160,000

Council clerk stole £160,000 from taxpayers to fund her ‘shopping addiction’ by forging cheques with an erasable PEN

  • Patricia Bell tricked councillors into signing cheques she had filled out
  • But Bell, whose salary was £46,000, removed the name by heating the ink
  • Later she would then fill her own details into the blank space
  • She paid £110,000 worth of altered cheques into her account
  • Also paid £45,000 pounds of additional cheques, including salary payments


A parish clerk has been jailed for using removable ink to forge cheques worth £110,000.

Patricia Bell, 58, presented councillors with legitimate cheques filled out with the names of valid payees.

But once they were signed, she would heat up the fabric pen ink, wipe it away and write in her own name.

The married mother of two spent the proceeds on luxury handbags, holidays and beauty treatments.

The scam at Whitehill town council in Hampshire lasted for five years and pushed a number of its bank accounts into the red.

Bell made out £110,000 worth of altered cheques and stole a further £45,000 of public money, partly through bogus extra salary payments.

And she fraudulently claimed £7,000 of expenses including food bills and eBay purchases – making a total of £162,000.

Speaking at her sentencing hearing on Friday, prosecutor Tom Wright told Winchester Crown Court: ‘Mrs Bell had a position of trust in a small council who all work very hard.

‘But over the years cheques and balances were eroded by her manipulation.

‘In 2012, the council noticed that it was running a deficit in several of its accounts.’

Mrs Bell was in sole control of payments including invoicing and pay roll at the council, which had taken her on in May 2006.

The fraud started in April 2007 and continued until she was suspended from her £46,000-a-year post in December 2012.

‘Her system operated on a cash and cheque basis and she ended up exploiting this system,’ Mr Wright added.

‘She would get cheques signed by councillors.

‘Her method was to write the payee’s name on the cheque using a fabric pen – a pen that uses special ink that can be easily removed.

‘Mrs Bell would write a legitimate name on the cheque and get a councillor to sign it – they trusted her after her long time at the council.

‘She would then rub out the initial payee’s name and fill in her own details on the cheque. By doing this, she was able to take large sums of money from the council.’

Once councillors identified financial irregularities an internal investigation was launched and Bell was forced to attend a meeting with senior councillors.

She admitted the allegations were true and was suspended for potential gross misconduct.

The council commissioned an independent investigator to ascertain the facts of the financial irregularities.

On February 18 this year, it dismissed Bell on the grounds she abused procedures to pay herself by falsifying reports, accounts and expense claims.

She was arrested and charged with fraud by abuse of position.

Anthony Rimmer, defending, claimed his client had worked  hard in the public sector up until the incidents that brought her  to court.

He said: ‘Mrs Bell had spent 37 years working in the public sector, working for Action for Children and other district councils.

‘It was only when she turned 53 that she started doing this.

‘She would often throw away the fabric pens in a bid to stop what she was doing, but ended up buying more.’

Bell, who had served as chairman and treasurer of the Hampshire Society of Local Councils, admitted one count of fraud by abuse of position.

Her head bowed, she was in tears for most of the hearing which saw her jailed for 28 months.’

The married mother-of-two was wearing a black and grey striped dress and tears streamed down her face when her sentence was read out.

Judge Linda Sullivan said: ‘In May 2006, you were employed by Whitehill Town Council as the town council clerk and financial officer.

‘You had a salary of £46,000 pounds. Nevertheless, in April 2007 you started to behave in a sophisticated and fraudulent way to obtain 162,000 pounds from Whitehill Town Council.
‘Of that figure, £110,000 was obtained by altering cheques using a fabric pen. But once your cheques were signed you removed the correct name by heating the ink.

‘You were finally dismissed in December 2012 and it seems you spent the money on holidays, expensive handbags and nail manicures.

‘I have no doubt that you maximised the ease of how you were able to take this money and you did so in a sophisticated fashion.’

New council clerk Chris Young, who worked under Bell, replaced her after she was suspended and today described her as being ‘glamorous’.

The 61-year-old said: ‘She was well presented and always looked very glamorous.

‘She would often come into work with a new handbag and her nails and hair were always immaculate.’