A proceeds of crime settlement figure is close to being agreed in the case of a thieving parish clerk said to have helped himself to almost £100,000 of the funds of a small village council.

Stephen Round narrowly escaped an immediate spell in jail when he was sentenced at Durham Crown Court in October last year, after admitting fraud by abuse of position at an earlier hearing.

It was alleged that in almost five years in the part-time role of clerk to Kelloe Parish Council in County Durham, civil servant Round made 91 fraudulent payments to himself, failed to pay its bills for services and left it without insurance cover.

The court heard the extent of his fraudulent activity only came to light after he resigned from the post and his successor was left having to attempt to resolve the parish’s dire financial position, in July 2022.

The Northern Echo: Parish council services for the people of Kelloe were put at risk by the fraudulent activities of

Round was said to have had access to the parish’s bank account and set up an online banking system with neither the knowledge or approval of councillors.

On examination of the expenditure, it was found there was an excess of up to £98,000, with no funds left in reserve.

It was estimated that only £19,000 of the transactions made under Round’s tenure were lawful with widespread discrepancies discovered.

The Northern Echo:

Payments to HM Revenue and Customs were not made after 2021 and there was no external auditing post-2020.

Among unpaid bills was the payment of water rates, leaving a risk of the water supply being switched off to allotments rented out by the council.

When the full extent of the parish’s financial difficulties emerged, the council had to take out a £15,000 loan to maintain its services and had to arrange to make the repayment in instalments.

Round, 34, of Rookhope Grove, Bishop Auckland, made no comment in his police interview and when he pleaded guilty to the fraud charge, in July last year, it was on a basis that it was £13,000 less than the prosecution’s £98,000 estimated total figure.

In his defence, the court heard the defendant, of previous good character, was struggling financially while going through a marital break-up and had turned to the use of cocaine and alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Passing sentence, Judge James Adkin said it would appear the defendant created a position where there was no level of scrutiny over his actions and, in his view, the fraud was carried out by the defendant, “partly to fund lifestyle changes”.

The judge imposed a 24-month prison sentence, suspended for 24 months, with a 200-hour unpaid work order, and a requirement that Round should attend 30 rehabilitation activity days with the Probation Service.

He was also ordered to observe a six-month 7pm to 7am overnight home curfew.

The case came back before the court on Friday (March 1) for a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).

Jonathan Harley, for the Crown, said both the prosecution and defence financial statements have been served.

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Mr Harley said within the next four weeks it was hoped the final figures for the defendant’s benefit from his fraudulent activities and the available amount for confiscation could be agreed by both parties without the need for a contested hearing.

Asked by Judge Nathan Adams what the position was from the defence point of view, Fiona Lamb, for the defendant, said she was told a car has been sold and there is a property subject to valuation.

Judge Adams agreed to adjourn the hearing in the hope the figures could be agreed at a POCA settlement hearing on April 3.