University of East Anglia worker who stole £50,000 is jailed

Sophie O'Hara leaving Norwich Crown Court. Photo: Steve  Adams Sophie O'Hara leaving Norwich Crown Court. Photo: Steve Adams

Saturday, August 2, 2014
6:30 AM

An administrator at the University of East Anglia, admitted stealing more than £50,000 through bogus student claims and blew most of the cash on luxuries including foreign holidays and even splashed out on afternoon tea at the Ritz hotel, in London, a court heard.

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Sophie O’Hara, 27, of Shipstone Road, Norwich was employed by the Norwich-based university as an administrator in the faculty of science, on a salary of £16,000 a year, and part of her job was to sign student expenses claims, Norwich Crown Court heard.

Chris Youell, prosecuting, said O’Hara, while not a qualified accountant, was in a position of trust as she was authorised to sign for large sums of money, in expenses.

He said her thefts came to light after discrepancies were discovered and it was found O’Hara had been paying cash from bogus claims into her own NatWest account, in Norwich.

“It quickly emerged that it was her that had been receiving the money.

He said that over a 17-month period, O’Hara stole £50,504. When confronted about the thefts, he said O’Hara admitted what she had done.

“She was however somewhat surprised and upset as to how much money she had stolen.”

He said that O’Hara had spent all the cash and had gone on holidays to Egypt, Florida and Madrid and outings such as afternoon tea at the Ritz.

He said: “It looks like she has spent all the money. She does not have much money left.”

O’Hara, who was tearful as she stood in the dock, admitted one charge of theft of cash from the UEA between March 2012 and October 2013 and was jailed for eight months.

Her barrister, Michael Clare said O’Hara suffered from a form of bipolar disorder.

He said that while that did not excuse what she had done, it did go towards explaining her actions.

“She does not want to use her difficulties as an excuse.”

He said he had not used the cash to pay off debts, but had used the money to go on holidays and had treated her mother to afternoon tea in the Ritz.

“She is very sorry indeed.”

He said that she deserved full credit for her plea and added: “She is unlikely to offend again.”

Jailing her, Judge Anthony Bate said the theft had gone on for a sustained period and said: “It went undiscovered for some considerable time. You appear to have spent the money on luxuries and foreign holidays and alike.”

He accepted that she had mental health issues but said he would be failing in his public duty if he did not mark her offending with a jail sentence.

He added: “It does not excuse your conduct,”

Following a previous hearing, a UEA spokesman said that the university’s internal investigation procedures uncovered O’Hara’s thefts and said that a full internal investigation was carried out alongside police investigations.

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