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Weardale railway thief jailed for five years
A THIEVING accountant who stole from two former employers having already run up a huge benefit fraud was yesterday jailed for five years.
Corina Elaine Heslop, whose ill-gotten gains amounted to £127,000, was branded “haughty and arrogant”
by the judge who presided over her three-week trial earlier this year.
Heslop’s activities while accounts manager at the Weardale Railway and with Darlington classic car company Simon J Robinson finally caught up with her as she was sentenced for a total of 18 offences at Durham Crown Court.
The court heard she gained about £70,000 in income support and housing benefit to which she was not entitled after claiming to be a single mother renting her home in Bishop Auckland for nine years.
In reality, she was living with her landlord – her then partner and now husband James Heslop – and the couple jointly owned the property in Rookhope Grove.
The court was told that, while under investigation by the Department of Work and Pensions over the alleged benefit fraud, in September 2008, she joined British American Railways (Bars), based at the Weardale Railway premises in Stanhope, County Durham, as management accountant.
Over 18 months with the heritage railway company, she paid a series of cheques into her own credit card and bank accounts for sums totalling £36,781, altering accounts and creating false invoices, purporting to be reimbursing herself for company bills she claimed to have paid using her own funds.
Several weeks after her dismissal from Bars, she was arrested and eventually charged with fraud, but while on bail she joined Simon J Robinson Classic Cars as a secretary responsible for salary payments, using her maiden name Corina Smith.
Nadim Bashir, prosecuting, said she stole a total of £21,032 from the Durham Road business, but Mr Robinson’s suspicions only arose when he read a report of the opening of her trial for the Bars fraud, in The Northern Echo, in May this year, when she was on a period of leave, supposedly on a cruise.
He contacted police and was advised to check the company books, which revealed the shortfalls.
Heslop, 42, who admitted six counts of benefit fraud, was convicted after trial in May for eight counts of fraud against Bars, and also pleaded guilty to theft of documents from a neighbour in Rookhope Grove, plus three counts of theft from Simon J Robinson.
Asked by Judge Christopher Prince what happened to all the money, her barrister, Philip Standfast, said she had used it to meet debts, having for several years lived beyond her means.
Jailing her, Judge Prince told Heslop her actions put the jobs of 57 people at Bars in jeopardy, as well as risking the stability of the car company.
Referring to the Bars offences trial, he told her: “You gave a most convoluted account and I have no doubt at all, watching you over those three weeks, you were attempting to confuse the jury, trying to trick them into acquitting you.
“You displayed a haughty arrogance and contempt for the prosecution’s suggestion you acted dishonestly.”
Proceeds of crime inquiries will take place in coming months.
Mr Robinson said last night: “She’s very clever and plausible.
It took us a while to realise what she had done.
“We’ve had a lot of trustworthy people work for us over the years, but this starts to make you doubt people who are genuine and above board.”