Barclays Bank repays some Temple-Crowe stolen cash to Cley Parish Council

A high street bank is under fire for its part in failing to stop the theft of thousands of pounds from two north Norfolk parish councils.

Barclays Bank has repaid over �4,000 to Cley Parish Council and will make further payments after intervention by the Financial Ombudsman.

And, following a call to Barclays by an Archant reporter, the bank is also talking to Morston Parish Council which wants some �8,000 returned.

Both councils claim the bank did not keep to the terms of their account mandates which specified that cheques should be signed by two parish councillors.

Each claims Barclays accepted numerous cheques signed solely by their dishonest former clerk, Patricia Temple-Crowe.

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Temple-Crowe, 58, of High Street, Blakeney, was jailed for 18 months on July 11 after embezzling more than �70,000 from five north Norfolk parish councils on which she had served as clerk, and from a Royal British Legion branch, where she was treasurer.

She stole the largest sums from Morston, estimated to have lost �26,943.70, and Cley, thought to have suffered a �23,884.04 loss. Stiffkey, Wiveton and Langham parish councils were defrauded of lesser amounts.

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Temple-Crowe has repaid �10,000 to Cley Parish Council and �19,000 to Morston.

Di Dann, who has replaced Temple-Crowe as clerk of Cley Parish Council, said they had a statutory duty under the terms of the Local Government Act 1972 to ensure that cheques were signed by two authorised councillors.

She considered that a mandate agreed with the bank represented a binding legal document but Barclays had failed to honour its terms and had frequently not checked the signatures on cheques.

'We might as well have banked with Mickey Mouse,' said Mrs Dann who has managed to secure a repayment of �4,155 from Barclays for Cley Parish Council cheques bearing only one signature cashed in the 2009-2010 financial year.

Mrs Dann said the council and Barclays had both now accepted the Financial Ombudsman's recommendation that the bank should repay a further �2,371.98, plus interest at a statutory rate of eight per cent on each cheque not signed in accordance with the account mandate from May 2008.

Peter Bullimore, who has replaced Temple-Crowe as clerk of Morston Parish Council, said they had met with a Barclays representative on July 26 to discuss some �8,000-worth of cheques bearing only Temple-Crowe's signature.

The council heard nothing from the bank, despite follow-up phone calls and emails, until last week when an Archant reporter contacted Barclays and asked about the delay.

The reporter also asked Barclays why it did not appear to have honoured its mandates with the two parish councils regarding account signatories.

But the bank did not answer the question. Instead, it issued the following short statement: 'Barclays treats all complaints very seriously. It is evident that on this occasion we have fallen short of our normally high standards. We apologise to our customers, Morston Parish Council, that we have not been in contact with them concerning an issue regarding the clearance of cheques. This matter is now receiving urgent attention and we have been in touch with our customer direct to discuss the matter'.

Tony Nash, chairman of the Norfolk Association of Local Councils, said many parish councils historically banked with Barclays.

He said the bank was 'in a real muddle.' Mr Nash added: 'You never deal with the same person twice. We find more and more often that you don't know who you're talking to if you have a problem.

'It's known that Barclays have allowed some cheques to go through with a single signature. It's a mistake on their part, They should have ready access to the known account signatories.'

But Mr Nash stressed that if proper financial procedures had been followed by the parish councillors at the time, Temple-Crowe would not have been able to steal the cash.

He added: 'It all hinges on a lack of governance by the councils. They didn't scrutinise their accounts properly.'

A spokesman for the Financial Ombudsman Service said they received 100-200 complaints a year about mandates on bank accounts and joint signatures. Where a mandate required two signatures to withdraw money from an account, a bank should check that it happened.

She added: 'While many banks use an automated system to check transactions, where account holders have asked for an account to be set requiring two signatures it would not be reasonable for the account holder to be held responsible because the relevant checking system did not pick up that only one signature was used.'

Temple-Crowe's disgrace came hard on the heels of a similar Norfolk case involving parish clerk Beverley Boughen.

Boughen, 42, of Manor Road, Dersingham, was jailed for 18 months on June 30 for stealing more than �60,000 from Ringstead, Marshland St James, Burnham Market and Snettisham parish councils, and the Heacham and District Community Car Scheme, between 2008 and 2010. On June 30 she was jailed for 18 months

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