A ONCE respected village postmistress has been jailed for 18 months after she stole almost £100,000 from her branch.
Jacqueline McDonald, 45, had previously pleaded guilty to theft and seven counts of false accounting after investigations revealed serious shortfalls in the amount of cash held at the village’s post office in Garstang Road.
Preston Crown Court heard the mum-of-three had prepared her family for her jail term by teaching them basic housekeeping skills.
The court heard McDonald took over the business when she returned from the United States with her husband in December 2006.
But from March 2008, McDonald admits declaring “fictitious” figures relating to cash held on the premises.
On October 1, 2008, Caroline Richards, a business development officer for the Post Office, visited the sub-post office to check the amounts of cash being held.
McDonald, who gave her address in court as the flat above the post office, had been declaring figures in excess of £100,000, but when Mrs Richards asked her to take the money from the safe, the sub-postmistress only produced £17,000.
John Gibson, prosecuting, told the court McDonald was asked to produce the rest of the cash, but when she opened the safe Mrs Richards could see it was empty and McDonald admitted there was no more money on the premises.
Auditors were called in and a shortfall of £94,380.69 was uncovered.
Mark Stuart, defending, said the McDonalds had taken on the business with the best intentions but had taken on large loans.
Their overheads were high and Mrs McDonald had been maintaining them with the profits of the business.
However, he said they ran into difficulties following a refurbishment and installation of new systems in May 2007.
He said: “She accepts false accounting. She accepts she put the figures in because the tills didn’t balance...
“The Post Office says that the money is being used to support the business.”
Handing McDonald an 18-month prison sentence, recorder of Preston Judge Anthony Russell QC told her: “As sub-postmistress you were in a position of trust and you were the custodian of effectively public money.
“What has happened to the money is not clear but you were responsible for the money and you have pleaded guilty to the theft of it.
“Thefts by those who are the custodians of public money are particularly serious and they call for punitive sentencing.
“This was a serious breach of trust by you.”
Appearing in the dock, wearing a black suit and pillarbox red top, McDonald spoke only to confirm her name.
Mr Stuart said McDonald – a mother of three with previous good character – was realistic about the sentence she was expecting and had been preparing her family for her time in prison.
He said she had been teaching them basic cooking skills and had put her daughter through her driving test.
He said she had never spent time away from her family and said: “She has become distressed and she is extremely anxious about the effect on her family.”
After the case Matthew Ireland, assistant manager at nearby Burlington’s Restaurant, said: “People have been pretty disgusted by what has happened. It has affected a lot of people quite badly.
“When they had to close down there were a lot of elderly people who couldn’t just nip out and get a loaf of bread or draw their pension.
“They don’t drive so they were having to get taxis into Preston.
“Broughton is a close community and a lot of people were very upset.”
Iky Patel, manager of the Gate of Bengal, in Broughton, said: “I’d heard a few rumours about there being some kind of fraud case going on from our customers.
“We did know her. She hadn’t been here long.
“She seemed like a pleasant lady - we had no idea she was going through this.
“She seemed all right and it seemed like she was doing the best she could with the business.”