A “WALTER MITTY” character who stole more than £15,000 from a Masonic Lodge in Essex was yesterday spared jail.
Robert John Chandler was given the trusted position of accountant and treasurer for the Colne Masonic Lodge in 2001 but the 69-year-old began stealing the money to cover his debts, Chelmsford Crown Court was told.
The 69-year-old had the sole responsibility for bookkeeping and handling the Wivenhoe Lodge members' money but “milked” the account of small amounts of money during a seven-year period.
Chandler's dishonesty went undetected for such a long time because he was able to cover up his actions by giving a false impression of the finances to Masons at the annual general meetings.
However, his crimes came to light when the account went overdrawn and the bank contacted the Lodge's chairman Brian Heasman. Chandler, who gave his address as Church Walk, Sudbury, was “quizzed” by the chairman and immediately made a full confession.
Prosecuting Andre de Moller , said: “Throughout the period of seven years, the defendant, in small sums, it should be said, milked the funds of the Colne Masonic Lodge and what he did to cover up those thefts was to falsify the accounts relating to the state of finances of the Lodge at the annual general meetings.”
Chandler was then arrested by police in July last year and made full confessions for his actions, saying he had stolen cash from subscription money and funds raised through raffles from dinner events.The court was told it was not known exactly how much Chandler stole, because he would put some money back when he could afford to.
However, the Lodge has been left £15,000 short by the seven-years of theft. Mitigating, Elizabeth Bradshaw, said the money taken by Chandler had not been used to fund a lavish lifestyle, but to cover his debts.
Miss Bradshaw said Chandler was a man of previous good character who had made a “very wrong and regrettable” decision and had planned to pay the money back.
However, the judge, Recorder John Caudle said: “The impression I get, tell me if I am wrong, he stopped because he had been found out.“If he had not been found out and if he had not been found out, he would have carried on doing it.”
He likened Chandler to a “minor Walter Mitty” character who had lived beyond his means. When Recorder Caudle asked if there was a “ball park figure” of the total amount taken, Chandler shrugged his shoulders.
Miss Bradshaw said the amounts paid back into the Lodge's account had only been relatively minor.
he court heard that Chandler also owed the Inland Revenue £60,000 and had £25,000 on credit cards. “He is regretful and shameful for what has happened. It is right to say that he has been assessed as a low risk of reoffending,” she said.
Chandler pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to a total of 11 counts of theft and false accounting.
Recorder Caudle said although the offences “clearly passed” the custody threshold he would take into account Chandler's age and previous good character.
He sentenced him to one year's prison, suspended for two years and ordered him to do 180 hours unpaid work in the community.
Chandler was also banned from working in a position of financial trust for any voluntary or financial organisations within the next year and given a 12-month supervision order.
Speaking afterwards, Chandler told the EADT: “I am sorry. I have been stupid, but I am pleased they have given me a chance to make it right. I am sorry for the impact it has had.”