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Judge condemns officer over fraud
A senior police officer has been condemned by a judge for bringing "shame" on the police service as he jailed her for two-and-a-half years for an "extensive range of petty retail frauds" targeting a number of high street stores.
Tanya Brookes was a chief inspector at Surrey Police when she carried out the scams, netting more than £11,000 against several household names including The White Company, Micro Scooters and Boots.
Sentencing the 46-year-old at Winchester Crown Court, Judge Andrew Barnett said: "The most significant factor of this tragic case is that you were a chief inspector of police in the Surrey constabulary, that factor is one which cannot and should not be ignored by the courts.
"By your criminal activities, you have disgraced the uniform you once wore, you have brought shame on the force that you once served and you will have tarnished the reputation of the police service.
"Therefore in this day and age, this is something that should not be disregarded, it's a serious aggravating feature, and taken with the persistent nature of our criminality, the sentence I must pass must make an example of you to others that this kind of behaviour by police officers is thoroughly disapproved of by the courts and by society.
"The tragedy of this case is how you were hitherto of good character, the mother of four children and who will suffer inevitably by what I have to do to you."
He added: "Throughout your life you showed great talent and indeed great concern for others, you are a highly talented woman, a highly intelligent woman which on many occasions you put those talents to good use in helping others, in helping support of various concerns you were involved in, school, churches and other voluntary organisations."
The mother-of-four, who worked under her maiden name of Sillett, pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to five charges of fraud by false representation and three of making an article used in fraud.
A further five offences which she denied were ordered to lie on file. A further two charges of acting with intent to prejudice/defraud HM Revenue and Customs which were due to be heard at a third trial will also now lie on file.
Brookes, of Nursery Road, Godalming, Surrey, was also previously found guilty following a trial of nine offences of making an article used in fraud, 14 of fraud and two of converting criminal property. She was found not guilty of a further two offences.
Nicholas Tucker, prosecuting, said at the start of the first trial how Brookes, who was also married to another senior police officer, David, had joined the Surrey force as a university graduate and he described her as a "high-flyer".
He said that it was as she was about to mark her 20 years' service in July 2011 that she became the subject of an investigation by her own force.
The court was told that Mr Brookes had also lost his job as a superintendent as a result of the case.
Nicholas Yeo, defending, said that Brookes had suffered a brain injury prior to her offending and a psychiatric assessment had suggested this might have affected her behaviour and ability to make appropriate judgments.
But he added: "Mrs Brookes, in her role as a senior police officer, should have known better and should have set an example."
He said that the offences had led to both her and her husband losing their careers as well as her probably losing her pension.
He continued: "She has, in a very real sense, thrown it all away."
Mr Yeo added: "She was so harrowed by the investigation that she has ended up with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder."
He said that a member of the public had also leafleted the area around her home raising awareness of the court proceedings against her. Mr Yeo said that someone had been arrested in connection with this.
In his opening of the case, Mr Tucker said: "It is our case that despite the healthy salaries which she and her husband enjoyed as senior police officers, Mrs Brookes - for reasons which may remain a mystery - expended an extraordinary amount of effort and her own time devising various scams, principally targeted against high street retailers.
"To compound matters, we say that on occasion she exploited her status as a police officer in order to inspire trust in individuals she meant to deceive."
Mr Tucker explained that one of Brookes's main targets was The White Company. He said that she would buy items such as Poitier cotton sheets or a cashmere satin-edge blanket from the chain's outlet store in Bicester, Oxfordshire, at a discount rate.
She would then falsify a bank statement on her computer showing that the full price for the product had been paid and return it to another branch of the store and fraudulently reclaim the difference in price. She would tell shop staff that the items had been bought by "an extravagant great aunt".
Mr Tucker continued: "Mrs Brookes would often be wearing her police ID on a lanyard round her neck - this was irregular, and the prosecution say it was a ploy by Mrs Brookes to capitalise on the trust people tend to place in police officers."
He also described how she fraudulently gained a £6,000 discount from a luxury holiday for her family by falsely claiming that she was a counter-terrorism officer at Gatwick Airport.
The deceit was in order to claim a discount given to people connected with the travel industry from specialist holiday firm Caribbean Unpackaged for the £10,000 trip to Buccament Bay on St Vincent.
Mr Tucker said that Brookes even sent an email to the company saying they could not pass on her details because her identity was a secret because of the nature of the role.
Mr Tucker added that as she returned from this holiday, Brookes also falsely claimed for a damaged Buggaboo buggy worth £849 and a Maclaren buggy worth £195 from British Airways by providing a forged proof of purchase from John Lewis.
She had made a similar false claim against Monarch airlines for a £491 pushchair she alleged had been damaged on a return flight from Tenerife in May 2009.
In another "scam" outlined by the prosecution, Brookes offered to organise a stall selling Micro Scooters at her son's nursery. Mr Tucker said that despite the fact that the parent-teacher association decided to decline her suggestion, Brookes went ahead anyway and when she received the two promotional scooters offered by the manufacturer, she returned them to the Kingston branch of John Lewis and exchanged them for vouchers and a different Micro Scooter.
Mr Tucker described another fraud which involved Brookes buying products such as Sculptinex facial treatments, Clearblue fertility monitors and Medela breast pumps in bulk and at discount on eBay and returning them to Boots to claim the difference in price.
She also bought forged discount vouchers for products such as Lurpak butter on the internet and used them to buy products at reduced price in stores such as Waitrose, Mr Tucker said.
Anton Allera, senior district crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "One of the aggravating features in respect of some of her offending was that the defendant on occasions referred to the fact she was a serving police officer or wore her identification lanyard at the time of the transactions.
"This can only be described as a gross breach of trust given her position at the time as a chief inspector.
"A second trial involving a series of additional dishonesty offences was due to begin trial on the March 2014. However, the defendant entered guilty pleas to further eight offences of fraud.
"This represented incidents including the defendant making representations that she was employed as a counter-terrorism police officer at Gatwick Airport in order to secure a discounted rate for a luxury family holiday. Other incidents included making false documentation to support fraudulent claims for damaged luggage.
"The public expects that police officers act with integrity. The successful prosecution of this defendant demonstrates that no-one is above the law."