A bank worker given community service for stealing nearly £80,000 from customer accounts received an unduly lenient sentence, the Court of Appeal ruled on Wednesday.
Judges held that two years imprisonment should have been imposed on Harrington Jack for the fraud at Santander where he tried to frame an innocent colleague.
But they decided against sending the 37-year-old to jail based on progress he has now made in completing half of his 240 hours community service.
New sentencing guidelines were also delivered for dealing with defendants in a position of trust.
In May last year Jack pleaded guilty to eight counts of fraud by abuse of position.
He committed the offences in June 2012 while employed as a customer service adviser at Santander’s call centre in Belfast.
Using the unique password details of a woman referred to as BS who trained and worked alongside him, he gained access to the accounts of two customers.
A total of £78,500 was transferred into so-called “mule” accounts and then withdrawn by unidentified others.
Both customers were fully refunded by Santander, with the bank itself able to recover £21,000 of the stolen money.
Although Jack is not believed to have masterminded the scam, he played a central role though his position.
On the day of the final transaction, he abruptly left work an hour after starting his shift.
He sent his line manager an email saying he was resigning as he had been offered a job at Queen’s University in Belfast – despite not even being shortlisted for interview.
An investigation launched by the bank confirmed BS’s unique login number had been used to carry out the frauds.
The court heard she felt that she was treated badly during the internal probe, describing interviews as hostile and accusatory, and ultimately left her job.
Police were called in by Santander in 2013, but it took a lengthy process of interviews before Jack was returned for trial at Belfast Crown Court.
Following his admissions he was given the maximum 240 hours community service, and ordered to pay £14,000 compensation to Santander.
The Director of Public Prosecutions appealed the sentences handed down, claiming they were too lenient.
Ruling on the case, senior judges identified the impact on BS as one of a series of aggravating features.
Lord Justice Stephens emphasised that Jack deliberately committed the offences in a way that would make her the prime suspect.
Her treatment by Santander and the impact on her ability to retain her employment was said to have been caused by the defendant.
“The impact on her amounts to a serious detrimental effect on an innocent employee,” the judge said.
Based on the seven-year period between the frauds being discovered and sentencing, the court publicly acknowledged a breach of the reasonable time requirements.
Lord Justice Stepehens went on to factor in discount for Jack’s guilty plea before declaring: “We are of the view that a sentence of imprisonment of two years should have been imposed on the offender, and that the sentences passed by the learned trial judge were unduly lenient.”
However, he confirmed that the original sentences would not be quashed due to the “wholly exceptional facts”.
With Jack now half-way through his community service, any substitute prison sentence would have to be cut because of double jeopardy.
Lord Justice Stephens added: “The reduced custodial sentence which would then be imposed has to be balanced against the benefits to be obtained from continuing with the community service orders.”
Outside court Jack’s solicitor, Michael Madden, claimed the new guidelines will help protect defendant’s rights to a trial within a reasonable time.
He said: “This is a landmark judgment which will go towards addressing the continuous problems of delay in this jurisdiction.”