Former Fenland parish clerk jailed for ‘quite dreadful’ breach of trust

THE former clerk of four parish councils- including one in Fenland- who stole more than �60,000 has been jailed for her “quite dreadful breach of trust”.

Beverley Jane Boughen, 42, of Manor Road, Dersingham, appeared at Norwich Crown Court yesterday to be sentenced after admitting to five thefts, which totalled �62,962.83, at a previous hearing.

William Carter, prosecuting, said the thefts involved money stolen from Ringstead, Marshland St James, Burnham Market and Snettisham parish councils and the Heacham and District Community Car Scheme between 2008 and 2010.

He said: “These are organisations which are very often run on a voluntary basis by people who give of their time and energy and where complete trust is and has to be placed in the parish clerk and finance officer, and Mrs Boughen in each case breached that trust.”

Last night, chairmen of the parish councils affected said this case was a “big learning curve”, with one council set to continue paying off its “huge debt” for years to come.

The court heard yesterday that Boughen, a mother-of-four, formerly of Station Road, Snettisham, had, unbeknown to her family, run up debts on credit and store cards and was “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, as Mr Carter put it.

She also used money from the different organisations, which was obtained in many cases by forging parish councillors’ signatures on cheques, misappropriating cheques to herself or her husband, or other parish councils, to pay for other items.

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Mr Carter said she bought an old VW Beetle car for her husband “as a project to do up”, made payments in respect of her daughter’s wedding, went on holiday to Spain and looked at hiring a helicopter for her daughter’s school prom.

In all cases including Snettisham, where her mother used to be chairman and where councillors had known her “most, if not all, of her life” the anomalies were discovered after concerns led to audits being carried out.

Christopher Milligan, mitigating, said that in acting as clerk for four parish councils at the same time Boughen had got in “over her head” and “taken on too much responsibility for someone who up until 2004 hadn’t worked” but was a housewife bringing up four children.

He said her debt had got “out of control” and that as a “loving wife and mother didn’t want to explain how out of control the family finances had got”.

He said: “She has showed remorse and is clearly very sorry for what she’s done not only to the local community where she’s had to leave and move house because she’s so ashamed and embarrassed about what’s happened, but she’s also terribly, terribly sorry for what she’s done to her husband and children.

“They didn’t know about the problems she was suffering from when this offending took place – she suffered silently and offended silently. They were not aware that money was going missing and she was spending it.”

Sentencing Boughen to 18 months in custody, which was reduced from three years because of her guilty pleas and the impact on her family, recorder Mark Dennis QC said: “It was a high degree of trust which you had imposed upon you not by one but by five quite separate bodies and you breached that trust. It really was a quite dreadful breach of trust.”

He added that the matter that weighed most on his mind in sentencing Boughen was the impact it would have on her family.

Boughen, who will serve half her sentence before being released on licence, was also told she would have a sixth similar matter, which has not been dealt with, remain on file.

Speaking after the sentencing, Eric Langford, Snettisham Parish Council chairman, said: “Some of the villagers will be delighted that she is paying for her crime with a custodial sentences.

“There will, however, be many of us who are still disappointed with the high price left for the village to pay and continue to pay for years to come.

“I feel that our village is the biggest victim in all of this because, with the three other villages the missing money came from cheques which the banks have given back but with us it was all cash.

“We have had to take out a �30,000 loan as a result of her leaving us practically bankrupt and we will have to pay the money back.

“As a parish we have a huge debt and I’m worried about what we will do next year but currently we are trying to cut costs everywhere.”

Ringstead Parish Council chairman Pat Nevin said all the council’s missing money had been paid back in full by its bank.

She said: “It was a big jolt when it all came to light what had happened and going through all the accounts last summer to see exactly how much was missing.

“The thing is, with the job of parish clerk it is all down to trust. Beverley had lots of qualifications and we weren’t the only parish council she worked for.

“She had a good name and this was not the sort of thing you would expect to happen. It has been quite a big learning curve for us.

“You pay them a good wage to do a job and you simply can’t check up on everything they are doing.

“When you have someone who is also very plausible when you ask questions and you only meet once a month, it can go on for a long time before you can see things are going wrong and that’s what happened here.”

She added: “We have now appointed a new clerk who hasn’t been a clerk before but she lives in the village and is well-known to us all.

“She understands we need to double check everything from now on and she brings all the paperwork to meetings.”

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