'Travesty' claim on sentence for 'Pilfering Paula'
THE committee of the village hall whose treasurer stole thousands of pounds has claimed her sentence was a travesty of justice.
They believe 49-year-old Paula Jeffery should have been dealt with more severely for the way she abused her position of trust.
Last month, Jeffery, who still lives in Nancegollan, near Helston, pleaded guilty to stealing £3,500 from the local village hall funds.
Jeffery, of Rose Cottage, was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended for two years. But hall committee chairman Peter Jackson said members felt betrayed at the leniency of the sentence.
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"This was a conniving and systematic rape of village funds," he said.
"People just think it was a one-off, but we now know it's been going on for years.
"We were massively taken aback by the court case. There were a whole myriad of offences and charges that should have been included."
The police had presented eight charges of theft but these had been whittled down to just one by the time she pleaded guilty at her court case.
Mr Jackson added: "In the end, we thought the court case would be a fair and just trial and an end to it all. It is our opinion, as a committee, that the court case was a travesty of justice."
Jeffery first ran into trouble when she was found to have stolen £15,000 from Camborne Post Office, where she was manager.
As a consequence, in April last year, she was given a 12-week suspended prison sentence.
Just ahead of the court case, she broke the news to the committee of the village hall.
Mr Jackson said Jeffery told them she had been "very silly" and had "borrowed/stolen some money".
Despite this, the hall committee gave her a vote of confidence.
She was only forced to quit as treasurer after she was convicted of theft from the post office.
Mr Jackson added that Jeffery had been a central figure in the life of the hall and had "inherited" the position of treasurer from her mother some years before.
"She was an overbearing, larger-than-life character," he said.
"She always wanted the hall to be run her way."
He said the ten-strong committee were happy for her to manage the accounts, given her job as manager of Camborne Post Office.
"She always ran a very tight ship and was always reluctant to discuss finances," he added.
"She used to joke that, as treasurer, it was her job to keep a tight rein on the finances."
It is now known that Jeffery was systematically stealing money from the hall.
The darker side to her character showed itself in the way she manipulated the other members of the committee.
When it was suggested by another committee member that a second person should help count the cash collected after events, Jeffery threw a tantrum and threatened to resign. At other times, she maintained control by overruling members or deliberately blocking proposals.
Mr Jackson said she also required counter-signatures on blank cheques, which she said would make it easier for sudden purchases for hall projects.
She would not always present financial reports at monthly meetings or, if questioned on certain payments, would claim they were being held over until next month.
The accounts were never properly audited, simply signed by a friend to say the end of year accounts balanced.
Recent copies received from the bank reveal Jeffery had been making out cheques to herself.
For example, she wrote a cheque for £340 payable to herself.
In other examples, the cheque book stubs showed that £500 was paid in a deposit for work on a path, £240 paid to William's Travel, £273 to Carn to Cove and £89.42 to Supply Zone.
Again, in each case the actual cheques were made out to Jeffery.
Domestic heating oil deliveries were also made from Opies and Bennets to Jeffery's home address – paid for from village hall funds.
Mr Jackson said that there was now no way to know exactly what she took, as the cash can never be traced and 20 pages of the accounts books had been ripped out by Jeffery.
He said that, when requested to, she failed to surrender the Flexi (savings) account bank book, telling the committee that "it was lost".
It was revealed later that the account was virtually drained by the beginning of 2003, but Jeffery always told committee meetings that the account never changed.
Before she pleaded guilty to theft, the committee said they had been the victims of abuse from Jeffery's friends and family.
Mr Jackson said he and the other members have been accused of being "incoming scum" and falsely of victimising Jeffery.
He added: "I hope now people will realise that we are trying to do the best for the hall and village, and we invite people to resume their support of events."
Last year, Jeffery, a former parish councillor, was given a suspended prison sentence in after admitting stealing £15,401 from Camborne Post Office, where she was manager.
She previously worked as counters manager at Truro Post Office.
Jeffery declined to comment.