A legal secretary has been jailed for more than four years for stealing almost £500,000 while working for a law firm in Hove.
Leanne Harris, 25, was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for fraud by Judge Michael Lawson at Hove Crown Court yesterday (Friday 27 January).
Harris admitted stealing £484,000 – most of it while working for Arscotts, the solicitors, in Lansdowne Place, Hove, from 2008 to 2010.
Her crimes were partly to blame for the law firm going into administration with the loss of 36 jobs – and they cost a 90-year-old woman her life savings.
Arscotts survived going into administration and continues to operate from the same premises in Hove with more than 20 staff.
Harris, from Gildredge in the village of Whitesmith, near Hailsham, stole the £419,000 from five client accounts through an office account at Arscotts.
She also stole £64,800 between August 2007 and April 2010 from 90-year-old Miriam Turnbull, who now lives in a nursing home in Hove. Harris had assumed power of attorney over Miriam Turnbull before joining Arscotts.
After Harris was sentenced, Detective Constable Valerie Henwood, from Sussex Police, said: “Harris caused considerable grief to many people by her selfish and dishonest actions.
“She contributed to the closure of a longstanding family firm with a loss of 30 jobs, caused great upset to the families who owned the client funds, stripped a 90-year-old lady of all her life savings, leaving her without money to pay for her care, and just used the money to live a lifestyle beyond her means.”
At an earlier hearing Harris’s lawyer Lewis Power said that she was deeply ashamed and had paid back about half the money with help from her family.
Mr Power said that she had been trying to cope with her husband’s psychotic personality while they struggled to pay their bills, including a loan and a mortgage.
He added that, at the same time, her father was suffering from bowel cancer and her mother had a nervous breakdown.
He conceded that she had been greedy and spent money frivolously and extravagantly.
Sussex Police said that the force was not planning confiscation proceedings as Arscotts’ insurance company had already begun civil action against Harris and had seized her assets.