IT manager who swindled Essex hospital trust out of £800k gets 5 years in prison

Self-signed invoices let him cream off hundreds of thousands

An IT manager who defrauded an Essex hospital trust out of more than £800,000 using two fake companies set up to commit his crimes has been jailed – after a court heard that he had previous convictions for dishonesty.

Barry Stannard, a 53-year-old IT manager from Chelmsford, will spend at least two years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to two fraud charges and two counts of cheating the public revenue.

Stannard's crimes began in 2011, two years after he joined Mid-Essex Hospital Trust (MEHT), now part of Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust. As a band 8B senior manager, he was authorised to sign off invoices of up to £7,500 without further checks. Having bought a house with his (now ex) wife, who gave up work when their daughter was born, Stannard turned to fraud to refurbish the property.

"Mr Stannard was also sole director of two companies," prosecutor Amy Oliver told Chelmsford Crown Court. "One was called Data Centre Power Services Limited, incorporated in December 2011, and the other was called BNC Communications Limited and was incorporated in July 2013."

Stannard, as can be seen from the Companies House links above, filed dormant (non-trading) accounts for both firms during their existence. Yet both firms were busy sending invoices to MEHT, creaming off cash for goods and services that were never delivered.

"Mr Stannard would forge the invoices or emails to his colleagues at the trust," continued Oliver. "Some of these emails would supposedly come from individuals working at Data Centre Power Ltd and BNC Communications Ltd, Sarah Mills and Simon Wood. There's no evidence these individuals worked for these companies; these were essentially false identities used by Mr Stannard."

As well as creating fake identities to help disguise his fraud, Stannard was also including VAT on his invoices, something his barrister Paul Webb told the court was purely so the fraud looked convincing. Nonetheless the trust paid out VAT totalling £132,000, on top of the £674,000 in invoices Stannard was able to process.

He was only caught in July 2019 when routine counter-fraud data matching between the trust's payroll and its supplier list flagged up that he was the director of two MEHT suppliers, having made a declaration that he had no conflict of interest with the NHS trust. Once caught by the NHS Counter Fraud Authority (NHSCFA), Stannard cooperated, both with the NHS and with HMRC's enforcers once they were made aware of the case. The disgraced IT manager was sacked from the trust in November the same year.

Stannard has three previous convictions for dishonesty. In 1986 he was convicted of stealing from his employer and given 100 hours' community service plus restitution of £35. After filling in a blank MoT certificate for his car in 2000, he was convicted of handling stolen goods and forgery.

His Honour Judge Tim Walker, sentencing, told Stannard his offending "is so serious custody is the only sentence."

"I've already noted the effect your actions had on the Mid Essex Hospital Trust," continued the judge, summing up Stannard's confessions. "But on the residents that fall within the trust's area... Patients and potential patients who could and should have received treatment rather than money that was destined for patient treatment but went into your own bank account."

MEHT oversaw some of the worst performing hospitals in the country at the time of Stannard's fraud, said the judge, explicitly linking that poor performance with the money he stole.

Webb, mitigating for the IT manager, told the judge: "Mr Stannard couldn't be more remorseful. He describes his behaviour as shameful. He says he's appalled by what he's done and those he has hurt. The NHS, his local area and also the knock-on effect it'll have to his family. He struggles to explain why he acted in this foolish way."

Judge Walker told Stannard he would have handed down an eight-year prison term for both fraud charges but applied the standard one-third sentence discount for an early guilty plea. Although the IT manager received two years for each of the two charges of defrauding the public revenue, the judge ordered: "All sentences run concurrently, the [total] sentence is therefore one of five years and four months. Serve half of that before automatic release on licence."

Confiscation proceedings are under way. The court heard that Stannard has separated from his wife and the marital home, the renovation of which he said was his motivation for the fraud, has been sold.

Sue Frith, CEO of the NHSCFA, said in a statement: "Barry Stannard abused his position in an outrageous way to line his pockets with money intended for NHS services. We are aware of the significant risk that procurement fraud poses for the NHS, which is why the NHS Counter Fraud Authority has been continually working to develop fraud prevention solutions over the last few years." ®

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