Senior social worker fraudulently claimed goods meant for needy people

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A SENIOR social worker filled her home with thousands of pounds worth of appliances, toys, games and clothes after fraudulently claiming for the goods on behalf of needy people in the North-east.

Jennifer Stephen initially appeared at Peterhead Sheriff Court on January 27, where she denied two charges of fraud against Aberdeenshire Council.

She appeared again in court last week where she admitted defrauding the local authority of nearly £9,000.

She led Aberdeenshire Council’s Social Work Department to believe that legitimate case-related expenditure was to be incurred for several items that were never supplied to clients - racking up goods which amounted to £8,885.78 between September 26, 2005 and August 15, 2008.

Stephen, who was employed by Aberdeenshire Council as a social worker and team leader at Peterhead for children and families, was suspended from her senior position in 2008 following an internal investigation.

Over a three-year period, she induced people at the social work department at Peterhead to sign off “financial assistance” forms.

These purchase orders were used to obtain goods that should have been for clients of the social work department.

Procurator fiscal, Sarah O’Gallagher, said Stephen was responsible for 35 such transactions.

The court heard that a transaction made on October 3, 2005, related to a rowing machine purchased for a client which amounted to £783.

On the financial assistance form filled out, 47-year-old Stephen stated that the piece of gym equipment was required for two girls whose mother had been murdered, and whose father had been imprisoned for her murder.

She stated that the girls had suffered extreme trauma from this, manifesting itself in an eating disorder, and that some exercise would help.

But it was also acknowledged on the form that a public gym would not be useful for the girls to attend, and so gym equipment at home was required.

But the client in question never received the rowing machine, and it was later discovered at Stephen’s property after a search was carried out.

On another occasion, a £199 tumble dryer was claimed - allegedly for a child who had a skin condition which was said to be difficult to control.

It was stated on the expenses form that tumble drying clothes would be beneficial to the child.

However, the family denied the child suffering from a skin condition altogether, and also never received the tumble dryer, the court heard.

The social worker even ordered school uniforms from Buchan Embroidery, claiming that they were for under-privileged families - but had them embroidered with the names of her own children.

Stephen also claimed for £2,100 worth of John Lewis vouchers, of which a washing machine, hand-held hoover, sofa, two double beds with mattresses, a variety of children’s toys, including an electronic scooter, and £1,300 worth of clothing, including school clothes and a football strip, was purchased.

Household goods were also among the expenses claimed, as well as a watch and a Wii Fit, and a keyboard complete with a stand.

The majority of these items have since been recovered from Stephen’s home.

Defence agent for Stephen, John Adam, said his client had “fully co-operated” with the disclosure, and that she accepts and understands the seriousness of the case.

Sheriff Marysia Lewis, who warned Stephen that the court had “very limited” sentencing options, deferred sentencing for background reports until Thursday, March 3.

Stephen, whose address is listed in court papers as 3 McGregor Crescent, Peterhead, had her bail continued.