£69,000 fraud: man spared jail

Medical Practice Manager John Fletcher,  having escaped a jail sentence at Harrogate Magistrates Court
Medical Practice Manager John Fletcher, having escaped a jail sentence at Harrogate Magistrates Court

AN NHS practice manager who siphoned off nearly £70,000 from his surgery in a desperate attempt to pay off his own debts has avoided jail.

John Fletcher, 50, was trusted by Pickering Medical Practice, to have total control of their finances.

But after he failed to get a large mortgage following a house move, the dad-of-two began sinking under credit card debt.

For three years, he devised an invoice scam where thousands of pounds would be diverted into his own bank account and he stole a total of £69,472.

His fraud was uncovered by an IT contractor who discovered he had been inflating invoices. When confronted, Fletcher admitted his crime and resigned from his well-paid role.

York Crown Court sitting at Harrogate Magistrates’ Court heard yesterday how married Fletcher’s elderly mother then came to his aid and gave him a £60,000 early inheritance to repay the surgery, which has around 10,000 patients on its books.

And the shamed practice manager escaped prison when Recorder Tahir Khan QC heard how Fletcher was of “positive good character” and unlikely to reoffend.

Prosecuting on behalf of the Department of Health, James Willoughby revealed that Fletcher began working at the practice, which has seven GPs and a total of 14 employees, in 2001.

He said: “The defendant was in sole control of the finances and in particular invoices. One supplier was a self-employed computer technician and in August last year she had cause to look into the accounts while he was on annual leave.

“She came across an invoice for £1,600 which was double what had been authorised, and she then found others with inflated amounts.

“He had been making payments of more money than had been asked for. He would then pay the correct amount to the creditor and pay the remained to himself.”

The concerned worker approached a doctor who in turn confronted Fletcher who immediately admitted the fraud. Police and the NHS’s counter fraud department were then informed.

Days later the practice received a resignation letter from Fletcher plus a cheque for £60,000.

Defending, Taryn Turner said that Fletcher, of Leppington, said: “He is a family man driven by dire financial circumstances to behave as he did. His family took on extra debt but were hopeful of getting a bigger mortgage. Unfortunately their move coincided with the global economic downturn and the larger mortgage did not materialise.

“He had furnished and equipped their new home using credit cards and he came under increasing financial pressure, and in desperation committed this offence.

“Help then came from his mother in his moment of need as she advanced his inheritance he was due to receive upon her death.

“He is remorseful and knows he has lost his reputation and his home. The family are now in rented accommodation.”

Fletcher, who admitted fraud by abuse of process, will not have to repay the remaining £9,472 because he is now on Jobseeker’s Allowance and has no savings.

Judge Tahir Khan QC told him: “What you did was abuse your position of trust by siphoning off money and using it to pay off debts accrued in your personal life.

“However I give you credit for your early guilty plea, your immediate acceptance of what you had done and your positive good character. These factors have persuaded me to suspend your sentence.”

He was handed a one year jail term suspended for two years and will be the subject of a supervision order for a year.

He will also have to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.