Hertfordshire social worker jailed for theft

A social worker who stole more than £30,000 held by Hertfordshire County Council on behalf of vulnerable pensioners has been jailed.

Lorraine Graves, 36, of Glebe Road, Hertford, was given a 15-month sentence after pleading guilty to seven counts of theft at Cambridge Crown Court.

Hertfordshire Police called Graves's crimes "despicable", saying she had abused her position of trust.

The council said more checks were now being made to its accounts.

The court heard Graves took money from five victims in Welwyn Garden City between 2009 and 2011, via accounts set up for people unable handle their own finances.

It heard a petty cash box in the department regularly contained more than £12,000 cash, available to social workers on production of a handwritten "chit".

'Temptation'

Graves abused the system by making withdrawals which the client had not asked for, the court heard.

A friend of one of the victims told BBC Three Counties Radio that statements were never issued so no-one suspected anything was wrong.

Graves was only caught when the executor of a victim's will questioned how someone who had been housebound for years could have gone on a caravan holiday.

Councillor Paul Zukowskyj, Liberal Democrat spokesman for corporate issues, said the council's systems were "appallingly bad" and had "put temptation in front of this social worker because there was really no system to monitor this money at all".

Colette Wyatt-Lowe, Conservative cabinet member for adult care and health, said: "We now have a series of even more stringent checks in place to ensure the protection of a vulnerable client's finances.

"Cash transactions for clients are kept to a minimum. However, as they are sometimes necessary we have introduced prepaid debit cards, so only the amount of cash agreed in the budget plan can be withdrawn."

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