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Friday 30 November 2012 Updated: 03/12 14:08
A SUB-postmaster who dishonestly covered up a shortfall of almost £30,000 and had a further £31,000 stashed in his private safe has escaped being jailed.
Akalpreet Banwait pleaded guilty to a charge of false accounting while he was the sub-postmaster at the Radford Road post office in Coventry.
The 36-year-old of Craners Road, Hillfields, was sentenced to eight months in prison suspended for 18 months and was ordered to do 180 hours of unpaid work.
Judge Alan Parker, who adjourned a further hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act, said if Banwait had been charged with stealing the cash he would have jailed him.
Prosecutor Martin Smith said in November last year a number of auditors arrived at the post office to carry out an audit.
But they were not able to gain access at 9am because no-one arrived to open up and when Banwait did turn up later he said he did not have the keys.
He said he had been seriously ill with TB and had only just come out of hospital, having left a friend running the post office for him.
An arrangement was made to meet him at the post office the following morning after he had got the keys and it was made plain to him that no-one, including him, was to enter the premises in the meantime.
The next day Banwait did not turn up until 11.25am, and when Post Office security officer Sharon Jennings checked the alarm records she found the alarm had been unset early that day before they had arrived.
Banwait volunteered that they would find £15,000 from the post office in his personal safe, saying he had put it there because he did not want his staff to have access to it.
The auditors found that there was no cash in the ATM machine although a printout showed it should have held £16,500.
Banwait, who claimed he had been having problems with the cash machine, which he said would show a shortage of £6,000 and that there was a further shortage of £4,000 at the counter.
Mr Smith said altogether there was a shortfall of £57,811 including £31,425 recovered from Banwait’s private safe.
When questioned Banwait denied stealing any of the money, but accepted he had falsified the cash in hand record to cover up that it was missing, and so avoiding his obligation to make good the loss.
Amy Jackson, defending, said he had repaid £10,000 by credit card and added to the pay which had been withheld around half of the net loss had been recouped by the Post Office.
Judge Alan Parker said: "You were in a position of considerable trust. The public look to sub-postmasters to be men of integrity, and you were not.
"You are lucky you were not charged with theft. If you had been, you would have been going to prison for something like two-and-a-half years.”
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