A COUNCIL worker who cost her bosses more than £10,000 by cancelling parking fines for family and friends has avoided prison but must pay thousands of pounds in costs

Heather Ffrench, 52, of Sparrows Herne, Basildon, and former colleague Anthony Olomofe, 46, of Curling Tye, Basildon, stood trial facing 30 counts of fraud by abuse of position.

Ffrench eventually changed her plea to guilty on the second day of the trial, admitting 25 counts of fraud, and a date was set for sentence.

Mr Olomofe was cleared of all charges after the trial concluded.

Ffrench had worked for the council for 15 years and committed the offences between May 2009 and 2016.

The mother-of-three fraudulently issued 13 permits worth thousands of pounds, including at least one to herself and one to Olomufe. She also cancelled tickets for family and friends.

Mitigating, Justin McClintoch said: “It’s not an overstatement to say that Heather Ffrench has lost everything.

“She has lost her career and good name and is probably going to lose her home as the relationship with her husband is strained.

“Her son who used to work for the council also had to leave as a result of this prosecution.

“As far as Heather’s mental health is concerned, it is fragile.”

Mr McClintoch went on to say how Ffrench has struggled to find work since the trial and is currently on Jobseekers Allowance.

Sentencing Ffrench, Recorder Martyn Royall said: “Whilst acting in a position of trust in which you were expected to safeguard or not act against your employer, you abused your position intending to cause loss to the council.

“You did this by cancelling parking tickets and issuing parking permits to the total value of £10,080.

“You held this position of trust having worked there since 2001.

“These fraudulent activities took place over a sustained period of time and the loser on each occasion was the council.

“I accept that until you faced this charge you were a person of good character.

“That reputation is now in tatters.”

Recorder Royall sentenced Ffrench to 15 months in prison suspended for 18 months. She was also ordered to pay costs of £6,209.

Andy Lewis, acting chief executive, said: “The integrity and honesty of all council staff is absolutely vital and depended upon, particularly when staff are in positions of responsibility.

“When this issue was identified by the relevant service manager, immediate action was taken which led to a highly professional, thorough and swift investigation by our Counter-Fraud Directorate and HR team, and the employee in question was suspended.

“The speed and professionalism of this investigation enabled swift criminal charges to be bought, this activity stopped and the case taken to court which we are pleased has now been brought to a close.

“Whilst it is clear that we have been the victim of deception from someone who has abused their position, we have also reviewed our internal procedures to help minimise the risk of this ever happening again.”

Ffrench laughed with friends as she walked from court.