Sophisticated fraudster's appeal thrown out

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 05:00 21/04/2014

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A fraudster, dubbed a "master manipulator" has had her final attempt at dodging justice thrown out.

Former bank manager Susan Ann Bourton who defrauded about $1.4 million from Westpac Bank and its customers had her appeals against her conviction and her sentence thrown out by the Court of Appeal late last week.

Bourton was a bank manager at Westpac as she carried out her offending - described as "cynical and arrogant" - over a 10-year period.

It started by Bourton providing false details to third-party lending companies to secure funds, before she got a job as a business banking manager at Westpac in May 2005.

There she opened and maintained fictitious accounts before moving on to manipulate customers' accounts without their knowledge.

She even continued the theft while living in Ireland using aliases and internet banking to make it seem as though customers were aware of their precarious financial positions.

At the culmination of a case characterised by its slow progress as Bourton sacked numerous lawyers, she was jailed for seven years, in the Hamilton District Court in June, 2012 with a minimum non-parole period of three years.

At the time of her sentencing Crown prosecutor Jacinda Foster described how Bourton's offending, aimed at paying back debts accumulated through her "champagne lifestyle" had become increasingly intricate. She branded Bourton a "master manipulator who weaved an intricate web of deception with far-reaching consequences for anyone unfortunate enough to be caught within it".

One of her victims, Lorraine Gould who together with partner James Harris had $1.5 million with $642,000 credited back, described a letter of remorse Bourton provided the court in June 2012 as "way too late and disingenuous".

At the start of her trial, Bourton pleaded guilty to 25 of 81 charges, and was later convicted on the remaining 56.

Sentencing Judge Philip Connell allowed propensity evidence to be given to the jury by the Crown - evidence relating to the charges she admitted.

Bourton's counsel for her appeal, Rob Weir, argued that it should never have been submitted to the jury and that separate trials should have been held for each.

However, the Court of Appeal disagreed, stating Bourton's offending constituted those transactions over a 9 -year period where she effectively "robbed Peter to pay Paul", with the stolen amounts escalating.

It said the evidence had to be seen in the context that Bourton "flatly denied any dishonesty on her part" which was in contradiction to her guilty pleas.

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It stated that Weir failed to particularise his argument about how the propensity evidence was used illegitimately. Weir also appealed Bourton's length of jail time, but that was also dismissed as the offending lasted for nine years "and appears to have been driven by greed".

"It was reasonably sophisticated and involved the abuse of a senior position of trust, with obvious harm ensuing to the victims."

- Fairfax Media

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