Runcorn woman jailed after stealing thousands of pounds from Liverpool University

First published in News

A trusted senior official conned her university employers out of tens of thousands of pounds and lavished much of it on her son's wedding.

Karen Davies' fraud went undetected for two years and by the time it came to light the University of Liverpool was £72,000 out of pocket.

The blonde smartly dressed 51-year-old appeared at Liverpool Crown Court along with her tax worker son, Jonathon Fox, into whose bank account she had deposited £27,700.

She also put money into other family members' bank accounts, including her husband's, but it was accepted by the prosecution that they had been totally unaware of her fraudulent activities.

Jailing her for 15 months a judge told her that she bore the "moral responsibility" for her son being in the dock alongside her. He imposed a nine month suspended jail sentence on him saying he accepted he would never have been involved but for his mother.

The court heard that Davies had been employed by the university for 11 years, the last six of them as staff development and training manager for the government scheme Aim Higher.

Her job involved her authorising payments to students for mentoring school children with a view to getting them into higher education. For each mentoring session the students received £50 but Davies began to falsify claim forms.

In June last year a shortfall of £3,500 was found in the accounts and when investigations began a pattern of unusual payments was found, said Rob Jones, prosecuting.

When she was spoken to about it she claimed she had authorised payments for a legitimate project her husband Barry was running. "She acknowledged the project was not officially authorised and had done it off her own bat."

She was suspended two days later on July 7 and she then disappeared but was traced a week later in a hospital in Scotland having had breakdown.

Meanwhile an audit was carried out and it was found she had falsified claims totalling £67,000 but with National Insurance implications the cost to the university was £72,000, said Mr Jones.

She was frank when interviewed and said a lot had gone into her husband's fishing tackle shop in Runcorn, whose finances she dealt with, and acknowledged she had abused her position of trust.

She said she had used some of the money looking after her family including paying for her son's wedding. Claim forms had been made out in his name but he told police he had never seen them but admitted he had been complicit in the enterprise because he knew she was doing something unlawful and money had gone into his account and he spent it on his wedding.

The court heard that as well as the funds paid into his bank account a further £17,300 had "made its way" into his wife's account.

Davies, of Church Street, Runcorn, pleaded guilty to five offences of fraud and Fox, 31, of Glengarriff Street, Clubmoor, Liverpool, admitted converting criminal property. As well as his prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, he was ordered to carry out 250 hours unpaid work. Neither has any previous convictions.

The court heard that although he had returned about £7,000 to his mum none of the cash has been recovered.

The judge, Recorder Andrew Long, said that Davies had "succumbed to temptation" and had been "in considerable breach of the trust placed in her.

"When confronted you initially attempted to bluster claiming expenses were legitimate but were suspended and then went missing. The involvement of your son significantly exacerbates your position. I am satisfied he would not have got involved but for you."

He told Fox that he accepted his remorse and that he had thought his mother was using his name to carry out mentoring work she was not entitled to do. You acted entirely out of character."

Defence barrister Gwen Henshaw said that that Davies, a woman of impeccable character, tearfully regretted what she had done and her main concern was for her son. "She takes the lion's share of responsibility.

"She had overcome adversity to gain a degree and worked in responsible positions in different organisations. She had previously worked with large sums of money with no difficulty and had never before betrayed the trust placed in her by her employers.

"She cites a massive personal breakdown as being the cause of what she describes as an aberration in her life.

"Her marriage is hanging on by a thread and she has lost friends and work colleagues and most of all lost her self-respect. She is extremely vulnerable and frightened of custody," she added.

David Rose, defending, said that Fox resigned from the Inland Revenue because of his offence and is now carer for his four-year-old son and his pregnant wife is the breadwinner.

He said that Fox's wife had not known about the dishonest behaviour and Fox took moral responsibility for giving her some of the cash and is genuinely remorseful.

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