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SIC made fraud too easy

| Written by Pete Bevington

SHETLAND Islands Council has accepted partial responsibility for a junior employee stealing more than £5,000 from the authority over 17 month period, Lerwick Sheriff Court heard on Thursday.

Diane Pottinger was an administrator with the council’s infrastructure department when she pocketed cash that members of the public handed over to pay for waste disposal materials.

The 29 year old, who lives at 21a Hillhead, Lerwick, pled guilty to embezzling £5,089.10 between 1 April 2011 and 1 September the following year, but has since paid back all the money.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said Pottinger made a clean breast of her crimes when the irregularities were uncovered and cooperated fully with the investigation.

Her defence agent Neil McRobert said the council would not have been able to get to the bottom of the case and take her to court without her full cooperation.

He said that Pottinger had worked for the council since she left school at 17 and had an unblemished record until this matter came to light last year.

He said the fraud began after the council introduced a new system of selling wheelie bins, black bags and other waste disposal products to the public direct from its offices in Grantfield, Lerwick.

Pottinger was put in charge of collecting the money, even though she had been given no training or advice on how to handle the payments.

McRobert said at the time the offending started she had been in an abusive relationship with a man who was unemployed and they were having financial problems.

She initially took £20 to pay for fuel for her car and intended to pay it back immediately, but was unable to resist the temptation of taking more when no one picked up on the fact that the money was missing.

“Every single penny has been repaid to the council and there has been no loss to the public purse,” McRobert said.

He added that his client was “extremely remorseful” about what she had done, which had resulted in her losing her job and made it hard to find another one.

However the council had accepted some responsibility for what happened, having allowed her to work alone unsupervised.

“Miss Pottinger had not received any training in relation to the handling of money and procedures involved here and it was acknowledged more supervision and guidance should have been given,” he said.

He also quoted from a council report that said: “This is clearly not a well thought out theft.

“There has been no attempt to cover her tracks and it was only a matter of time that she was going to be found out this was going on.

“She had taken the first amount of money and it just snowballed from there.”

Deferring sentence until 18 April, Sheriff Philip Mann told Pottinger that she was unlikely to go to jail as this was her first offence and she had paid back all the money she had taken.

He said that the most likely outcome would be a period of unpaid work for what he described as “a serious matter”.