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Yorkshire Evening Post
By Richard Edwards
Published 10:07, Tuesday, 13 February 2007
A CROOKED Leeds court usher saw her crimes catch up with her after an eagle-eyed defendant’s chance courtroom sighting.
The defendant, an Albanian woman, had been convicted and fined £60 for driving without insurance.
After the hearing, in April 2005, she handed over her £60 penalty to Leeds Magistrates Court usher Anita Hewitt, and thought nothing more of it.
But, unknown to the defendant, rather than putting the brown envelope into the fines collection box, Hewitt, formerly of Brooklands Crescent, Havercroft, Wakefield, concealed it beneath the black robes of her usher’s uniform.
When the missing cash was identified, a court summons for non-payment of a fine was issued and police turned up at the original defendant’s door.
Later, as she stood in a court witness box protesting her innocence, Hewitt walked into the room.
Yesterday, she was in the dock at Leeds Crown Court to hear prosecutor John Topham say: “She said ‘That is the lady I paid the money to.'”
That courtroom drama led to a meeting between Hewitt and a senior magistrates court manager.
But when a second fine vanished, the £165 punishment handed to drink-driver Keith Sykes, a visitor from America, suspicions were raised further.
That time, Mr Sykes’s Leeds-based brother had witnessed the cash being handed to Hewitt, and so a full investigation was launched.
The 41-year-old was subject to a disciplinary hearing before being arrested and held in police custody. After being charged with two counts of stealing
money from Her Majesty’s Court Service, she was suspended from her job.
That suspension stood until yesterday, when Hewitt entered last minute guilty pleas to the two charges. Her barrister, Andrew Stranex, said his client had been under intense personal pressure at the time of the thefts.
Her father had died in December 2004, he said, and she had been taking anti-depressants since the death of her partner on Christmas Day 2002.
“The most significant impact is the loss of good character she’s had for so long,” Mr Stranex added.
Judge Jonathan Durham QC said jailing Hewitt would be a “gratuitous act.” Instead, he sentenced her to a 12-month conditional discharge, and ordered her to pay back the £225 she stole and pay £800 court costs.
The judge added: “This is a sad day. In some 30 plus years as a barrister, a QC and as a judge, practising in most courts of the cities in this country and beyond, I have never encountered even the merest suggestion that an usher or court clerk has ever been dishonest.”
Hewitt now faces disciplinary action and could face the sack.
Last Updated: 13 February 2007