Trusted Elland accountant escapes prison after using cheque to pay off own debt

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A trusted accountant who paid a client’s £15,000 tax cheque into his own account – then lied about what he had done – has been given a suspended jail term.

A court heard that Christopher Tracey, of Elland, used the money, which was intended to pay a Halifax firm’s corporation tax, to clear his own £12,000 overdraft.

When the Inland Revenue contacted Mark Norcliffe, of Forest Green Design, to query his non-payment, Tracey told them he had sorted it out.

But further inquiries by Mr Norcliffe revealed the taxman had never received the cheque.

When the cheque was examined, it was found Tracey had altered the payee to put it into his own account.

Questioned by police Tracey, 47, of Elland Road, said Mr Norcliffe had consented to the cheque being paid into his account.

Bradford Crown Court heard that since committing the fraud in December 2009 Tracey had repaid the whole amount to Mr Norcliffe, as well the penalty fees he incurred.

Tracey had also paid back some of his accountancy fees.

Barrister Ken Green, for Tracey, said at the time of the fraud his client was trying to cope with the breakdown of his marriage and financial difficulties.

Judge Peter Benson was told Tracey was also clinically depressed and had suffered a breakdown last year.

Mr Green said Tracey’s explanations during police interviews were indicative of a man not thinking straight.

The judge was handed testimonials from Tracey’s family and other clients, but Mr Green said the accountancy business had now collapsed.

‘His professional status is lost,’’ conceded Mr Green.

Judge Benson said he was just persuaded to suspend a nine-month prison sentence for two years.

But he said Tracey would also have to do 200 hours unpaid work for the community.

‘’You pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to this offence of fraud, which arose out of your dealings with a small firm who entrusted you to deal honestly with their accountancy matters, including paying monies to the taxman,’’ the judge told Tracey.

The judgesaid the fact that the money had been repaid was a powerful factor in enabling him to suspened the prison term.