A WARRNAMBOOL judge yesterday blamed police for a delay of 12 years in getting a case to court — labelling the inaction as scandalous.
Former Southern Grampians Shire councillor and Australian Sports Medal recipient Barrie Thomas Struthers, 68, of Elmore Street, Hamilton, pleaded guilty in the Warrnambool County Court last Friday to 40 charges of obtaining property by deception.
Yesterday he was jailed for 16 months, with two months to serve immediately and the remaining 14 months suspended for two years.
The thefts related to misappropriating $281,321.97 from 27 clients between 1992 and 2000 when Struthers was the officer manager with Hamilton accounting firm Witham, Cogger and Struck.
Judge James Montgomery said yesterday the chronology of events made for sorry reading.
He said a Supreme Court settlement was reached in relation to the matter on December 21, 2001, which led to Struthers repaying $177,543.48. That came after an audit was completed in January 2001 and police searched Struthers’ house on March 23, 2001. Police should have been aware of the Supreme Court action.
Judge Montgomery said it was unclear why police officers did not interview Struthers until September 16 and 17, 2004, but he had been told the complexity of the investigation led to the delay.
He said courts had to send a message that people in positions of trust must not steal but that message was diluted if it took 12 or 13 years for cases to get to court.
Judge Montgomery said the discovery that the matter had not been acted on was made in 2012 and that was not only incomprehensible but scandalous — compromising the administration of justice.
He said the delay had been caused by the negligence of Victoria Police.
Judge Montgomery said defence counsel Michael Turner explained his client started as the office manager with Witham, Cogger and Struck in 1989 and held that position until 2000.
After the first year, the judge was told Struthers requested a pay rise but was told by the partners he was being overpaid and he became aggrieved.
The judge said misappropriated funds were used to buy a share portfolio — there had been funds to repay victims. Struthers lived a modest lifestyle and once he started offending didn’t know how to stop. It became a bit of a compulsion but Struthers knew he would be caught and didn’t try to hide his assets.
Judge Montgomery said Struthers stole for personal gain and moved money around to avoid detection.
He said the offending was a significant breach of trust of his employer and the community and once the offending became known Struthers effectively withdrew from his active community life.
“You were leading a double life,” he said.
“You were using money to purchase shares and were effectively ostracised by the community.”
Judge Montgomery said that without the significant delay caused by the Victoria Police Struthers would have received a significant jail term. Struthers had no prior convictions.
Victoria Police has declined to comment until Struthers’ appeal period has expired.