A DISGRACED postmistress who stole almost £100,000 from her branch has been ordered to pay back just £1.
Jacqueline McDonald, 45, admitted multiple counts of theft and false accounting relating to Broughton Post Office earlier this year.
She was jailed for 18 months in January but today it can be revealed that she was released after four-and-a-half months on good behaviour and is now back living in a flat above the Garstang Road sub-post office, which remains closed.
The mum-of-three was brought back to Preston Crown Court last week for a Proceeds of Crime hearing, which enables the crown to confiscate money obtained by criminal means.
The hearing heard she made a total of £99,759 from the offences.
But Judge Graham Knowles QC said an investigation into her financial affairs discovered she had no realisable assets, so she was ordered to pay back just £1.
last week, residents and village leaders in Broughton labelled the result a “joke” and a “mockery”.
Former post office regular Kevin Fraser, 32, of Northway, Broughton, said: “There is something wrong with the system – it is a joke.
“Having to pay a quid after taking all that money is scandalous.”
Another resident, who asked not to be named, said: “It makes a total mockery of all of us and goes to show that crime does pay for some people. It makes me sick.”
Preston Coun Neil Cartwright, who represents the Preston Rural East ward, which includes Broughton, said: “British justice does sometimes leave you scratching your head.
“It really is ridiculous and it gnaws at me, especially when the post office is still closed.
“All this has resulted in the closure of the well-used village post office and shop and it is the local people who suffer.” McDonald protested her innocence when contacted for comment – even though she pleaded guilty to charges of theft and false accounting at the original hearing – and said she is currently involved in a civil claim against the Post Office.
In a statement, she said: “I’d like to apologise to the citizens of Broughton for any inconvenience this may have caused.
“I have been instructed by my solicitor to not make any comments at this time due to an ongoing civil claim against the Post Office, which I am involved with.
“However, I can say that I did not steal one penny.”
She claims glitches in the Post Office’s accounting system – Horizon – caused the unexplained losses.
She says she is part of a civil case involving other sub-post masters planning legal action against the Post Office, which has previously denied any serious problems with its systems.
She was released on licence from jail in June for ‘good behaviour’.
McDonald took over the branch in December 2006 when she returned from the United States with her husband.
But from March 2008 she admitted clearing ‘fictitious’ figures relating to cash held on the premises. Prisoners generally serve half of their sentence in custody before being released on licence.
In October 2008 a Post Office business development officer visited the branch to check the amounts of cash being held and found a large shortfall which sparked an investigation.
During the original case that finished at Preston Crown Court in January, McDonald’s legal team said she had taken on the business with the best intentions but ran into financial difficulties following a refurbishment and installation of new systems in May 2007.
She was jailed for 18 months after pleading guilty to theft and multiple counts of false accounting.