Published: 14:33, 27 September 2019
| Updated: 14:53, 27 September 2019
A parish council clerk has been jailed for three years after he stole more than £80,000 from under councillors' noses.
The part-time clerk and finance officer deceived two other councillors by hiding a critical page of a bank mandate that enabled him to poach money from the council avoiding scrutiny.
After persuading colleagues to switch payments to online banking he began transferring the parish council's money to his own account, even setting up direct debits to pay for personal bills.
But the 53-year-old's cover was blown in November 2017 when he attempted to present incomplete annual accounts to an independent auditor and it was discovered he had completely drained all three of the council’s bank accounts.
A Kent Police investigation showed Willard had stolen a total of £83,058, using the money to pay rent on a business premises and to purchase electrical items for personal use that included computers, tablets, a camera, a projector and two mobile phones.
Willard admitted stealing on his arrest but said the council had inflated the amount. He said that he was in debt and stole to help provide for a relative with learning difficulties. He claimed he intended to pay the money back from his £400-a-month salary.
Willard was charged with an offence of fraud by abuse of position which he pleaded guilty to at Maidstone Crown Court.
He was sentenced today to three years in prison and also received a consecutive sentence of 14 extra days for breach of bail offences.
Detective Constable Geoff Kirya of the Serious Economic Crime Unit said: "The actions of Gary Willard will have a profound and lasting impact not just on the parish council, but upon the communities that they serve.
"Willard has stolen money which had been put aside for a number of planned projects to benefit local people and enhance local facilities.
"This is money which is now no longer available. It is likely the council’s funds will not recover for many years to come."
More by this authorRachael Woods